shutterstock_126747830Last November, President Obama promised reforms to immigration enforcement that focus on actual threats to public safety while keeping immigrant families together.  He evoked a more humane enforcement system where resources are not spent jailing vulnerable individuals. One of his November reforms explicitly said the detention of primary caretakers of children is “not in the public interest.”  The President should keep those promises.

So why, months later, is M-, the mother of a U.S. citizen child, fleeing persecution by the gang that murdered her sister and against whom both of her parents testified in court, still in detention?

Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to Secretary Johnson asking for the release of two Central American families who have been incarcerated for 8 months this week. Originally held at Artesia, these families are now detained at the family facility in Karnes, Texas.

Think of that. Eight months of detention for M- and her four-year-old daughter E-, who was born in Guatemala. Detention comes with a price, and in E-’s case, she has paid with her health. She has suffered chronic illnesses while in detention – including hospitalization for acute bronchitis and ongoing nebulizer treatments.

M- has no criminal history whatsoever. She poses no public safety threat to anyone. And she has strong ties to the United States. All she wants to do is reunite with her family on Long Island, New York: her older daughter, a U.S. citizen, is waiting there as well as other close relatives, some U.S. citizens, some lawful permanent residents. They want her and E- to be safe and cared for – they have all written to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) saying they are willing and able to care for M- and E- and ensure they show up for their hearings.

Anywhere else in the United States, M-’s continued detention would be completely antithetical to President Obama’s executive actions. Anywhere else but the border. Because of her status as a “recent border crosser,” the Administration is ignoring all the other promises President Obama announced with great fanfare last November.

It is a stark hypocrisy: the Administration’s insistence on detaining families while promoting executive reforms in every other realm of immigration enforcement. That hypocrisy is driven by a lack of political will to undo rash policy decisions made last summer when refugees first started coming in larger numbers from Central America. The President knows so much more now than he did last summer about why they are coming – it’s extreme and deadly violence, pure and simple. He cannot deny they deserve protection and must correct the mistake of detention.

M- does not deserve to be detained at all, yet she may be deported as early as next Tuesday. After spending eight months jailed, and after those eight months have severely affected her child’s health, she and her young daughter may be sent back to grave danger.

This is a wrong that must be righted. M- should be released to her family and have a meaningful chance to seek relief. She and E- aren’t a threat to national security, or border security, or anyone’s security.  They are the most vulnerable among us and deserve our help.

ICE Director Sarah Saldana testified last week about new rules she issued on reviewing the detention and release of those with criminal convictions.  Why can’t she issue rules covering families with children?  Why can’t she and our President protect M-?

As the most powerful leader in the world, President Obama must ensure his promises reach all the way to the border where that power could save lives.

Written by Stephen Manning, Member of the AILA Board of Governors


If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.