“When you see women and unaccompanied children fleeing as migrants, that’s when something really bad is going on. That’s the least mobile demographic. You just don’t see it unless it’s life or death.”
This statement from former AILA president, Laura Lichter, sheds light on the current situation at the United States border.
In December, more than 400 women and children were released from the Dilley, Texas immigrant detention center, just days after a judge denied the center the license which would allow them to legally detain children. While this appears to be a step in the right direction to ending family detainment, some are questioning to what extend the government will comply with this order.
Even after the release, it is predicted that close to 1,900 women and children are being held in that facility instead of being processed and released locally, as they are supposed to be. And this number is increasing. One respite center in the area says they were averaging 300 individuals per day just one month ago. Now, they are down to fewer than 90.
While migrants are still being released to these respite centers, it is guessed that this is due to lack of space in the detention centers. Currently, many women and children are detained for months at a time, sometimes close to a year. They are held in detention centers without the proper license to do so. Those lucky enough to be released are often done so through “alternatives to detention” or ATD. This includes ankle monitors, house visits, phone calls, etc. This type of supervision is to ensure that the migrants make it to their court hearings. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to triple the number of migrants in this program within the year.
Human rights advocates are worried that migrants who do not get released from custody with ATD are going to be held in the detention centers for indefinite lengths of time, likely until their deportation proceeding. They are worried that each individual will be deported, if possible, when they are unable to prove that they qualify for asylum.
So why are these individuals still being held in such horrific conditions? Partly because of current laws and legislature, although it began before the current administration, and partly because for-profit prison companies are getting paid to detain immigrants.