July XX, 2018
Dear Members of Congress,
As faith leaders and faith-based organizations across traditions, we write to express our unequivocal opposition to the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separates families and detains and prosecutes parents. We also stand against any proposal that would expand immigration detention, as family incarceration is not a solution to family separation. We are committed to humane immigration policies that reflect the values and expression of our faith to welcome the stranger and treat all human beings with dignity and respect. Instead of continuing unnecessary and immoral detention, deportation, and border militarization policies, we must carry on our nation’s proud history of hospitality and moral leadership.
As people of faith, our concern stems from shared values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us. As Leviticus 19:34 (CE) reminds us: “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”
In many faith traditions, family is the fundamental unit in society through which individuals are able to grow and experience the love of God. Many of our faith traditions also call on us to safeguard the well-being of children in particular. Tearing children away from their parents, absent a documented child protection concern, is unconscionable. Equally troubling is the inhumane and cruel expansion of family incarceration that is plagued with systemic abuse and life-threatening inadequate access to health and medical care, especially for children, pregnant or nursing mothers, and others with serious medical conditions.
To threaten families who are fleeing harm and legally seeking protection at our borders with family separation, incarceration, and prosecution is immoral and unjust. Similar policies of detaining asylum-seeking families to deter their migration have already been found by a U.S. court to violate U.S. law. U.S. policies of deterrence have also been found to have no impact on vulnerable populations fleeing to the U.S. from Central America. We remind you that our efforts to end family detention have never been partisan. Indeed, our faith values led faith leaders to speak out against family detention consistently when it was used before. Therefore, we encourage the administration to respect the principles of family unity and liberty in its immigration and border enforcement policies. Families should not be separated nor needlessly locked up in costly and inhumane family or adult detention facilities. The administration has long had alternatives available to both practices, including to mitigate flight risk and support compliance with immigration requirements and court proceedings.
We are heartened by the national outcry against family separation happening at ports of entry and between ports of entry, including of asylum seekers. As Congress takes action to end family separation, it is critical that Congress rejects proposals that would expand family incarceration, such as S.3093 in the Senate that would see children detained indefinitely with their parents. The Flores Settlement agreement mandates that children are not kept in unlicensed detention or restrictive settings for more than 20 days. This is an important standard and should be upheld; undermining protections for children is not a solution. We oppose using the plight of children and families as leverage to end child welfare protections or expand family detention.
As we recognize that legislation is not needed to end family separation, we seek an end to family separations, the reuniting of families, and an end to the "zero tolerance" policy by pressuring the administration and devoting resources to helping parents reunite with their children. Judicial and prosecutorial discretion is the underpinning of a fair justice system. The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health & Human Services (HHS) must be instructed to act immediately to reunite the more than 2,000 families already separated. We also seek an expansion of access to counsel for children and their parents to ensure they have the opportunity to present their asylum claims and seek relief from persecution and life-threatening violence.
Family incarceration is not a solution to family separation. To the extent the Senate is considering alternatives to family detention, we urge Congress and the administration to utilize non-restrictive, community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs) as the most appropriate response for families, children, and asylum seekers. Incarcerating families and young children in detention centers is unnecessary, costly, and harmful. Most families crossing the border do not pose a flight risk, and need not be funneled into detention or restrictive custody. Community-based ATDs effectively reunite individuals with family members currently living in the U.S., connect people with faith-based hospitality communities, or invest in family case management which helps people navigate the legal system.
Family incarceration is inhumane, immoral, and wrought with abuse. Reports have documented guards using family separation or the threat of separation as a method of discipline, as well as children experiencing signs of psychological and physical trauma. The American Association of Pediatrics found that family detention facilities do not meet the basic standards for the care of children in residential settings and “no child should be in detention centers or separated from parents.” It is critical that the administration institute true alternatives to detention, as family prisons endanger children’s health and safety and cost millions of dollars to maintain.
ATDs are less expensive and allow for individuals to have access to services in the community while they wait for fair adjudication of their immigration and asylum claims. When utilized, ATDs prove to be effective. Over 90% of those participating in them appeared at court hearings and other immigration appointments. For example, the Family Case Management Program, which allowed families to be released and receive intensive case supervision; help with child care and education; connections to legal counsel; and more rather than simply be detained. The program was 99 percent effective at having families show up for check-ins and court appearances and also ensured departure from the United States for those who did not win asylum. And, at a cost of only $36 per day per family, it was far cheaper than family detention, which costs over $300 per person per day. Members of Congress should push for the administration to better utilize ATDs through appropriations and public statements. As Congress considers funding for FY 2019, we call on Congress to reduce funding for immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization, and increase accountability and oversight of ICE and CBP. Pouring more money into the machinery of deportation and detention will not solve an outdated, punitive immigration system. Additional oversight of these agencies and border enforcement is essential to ensure adherence to international and U.S. law for asylum and human rights protection in immigration detention and enforcement.
Our faith has taught and called us to welcome the stranger, stand with the vulnerable, and love our neighbor. We call attention to the moral dimensions of public policy and recommend reforms that uphold the God-given dignity and rights of every person, each of whom are made in the image of God. Respecting the right to seek safety without fearing punishment through detention or separation from one’s children, parents, or other family members must be protected in policy.