Faith groups to Biden: ‘Families do not need to be detained’

A coalition of 130 religious organizations is urging President Biden to discard the idea of returning to family detention to manage migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, amid reports that the idea was floated in the administration’s internal deliberations.

In a letter to Biden, the coalition of different religions and denominations called family detention an “immoral and inhumane practice.”

“Detaining children and their parents is a cruel and unnecessary way to treat migrant families after their grueling experiences. Families do not need to be detained,” wrote the groups, noting that the Biden administration previously did away with the practice in 2021.

While the reports of officials reconsidering the policy were not corroborated, the mere suggestion set off a firestorm of criticism from Democrats, human and civil rights organizations, religious groups and immigration advocates.

Yet administration officials, especially Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have defended the deliberative process where the idea of a return to family detention was reportedly pitched.

While advocates are appalled the idea could even be on the table, officials see the brainstorming approach as necessary ahead of the end of Title 42, the coronavirus pandemic-prompted border management policy that allowed border officials to skirt the asylum process.

The 130 religious organizations also called on Biden to reconsider an administration proposal that advocates call an asylum ban or a transit ban, labels the administration decries as unjust.

“We’re concerned that the proposed asylum rule may exacerbate the issues prevalent in detention, around access to counsel and due process. It’s plain to see that these policies will sow confusion and instill fear,” wrote the groups.

The letter’s co-signers included the American Friends Service Committee, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Church World Service, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, HIAS, Hope Border Institute, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Presbyterian Church USA, Quixote Center, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the Episcopal Church.

The groups raised practical concerns on family detention and the asylum rule beyond their moral qualms, based on mental and physical health risks for migrants and the discriminatory application of deterrent measures.

“​​The harm that detention poses to families and children is well documented. Detention exposes families to unnecessary mental and physical health risks, while exacerbating the traumatic experiences they fled from in their countries. Any amount of detention is harmful to children. It may disproportionately impact Black pregnant women,” they wrote.

And the groups said family detention raises civil and human rights questions.

“Worryingly, solitary confinement and family separation have been abused as methods to silence parents that speak out. Families have also not had adequate access to legal counsel in detention. The period of detaining families must never be repeated,” the groups wrote.

The faith organizations also called on Biden to shift his administration’s approach to immigration and border policy away from politics toward morality.

“The undersigned faith organizations urge your administration not to detain migrant families. We instead invite you to be inspired by the spirit of justice and mercy that runs throughout our collective faiths and stories,” they wrote. 

“Policies should be guided from a place of compassion and concern for those who are on the margins, including migrants and asylum seekers – not from a place of fear and trepidation.”

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas border security immigration Joe Biden Mexico President Joe Biden

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