shutterstock_473539426Family detention is wrong. The mass incarceration and detention of asylum seekers is wrong. The detention of immigrants who are not flight risks and pose no danger to community or national safety is wrong. It’s not just me saying it, or just AILA saying it, or even churches, community groups, NGOs, and Congressional Members. Now, the United Nations is saying it as well.

This week, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention completed a two-week visit to the U.S. I hadn’t realized there was a working group on arbitrary detention until this working group geared up to visit, but given the abuse of the detention mechanism around the world, I am heartened to know the subject is being tracked and investigated by the U.N. However, I am embarrassed for our country that the need existed to examine what the U.S. government has been doing.

On Monday, the group issued its preliminary findings after meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of State, the Office of the Special Envoy on Guantanamo Closure, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, as well as authorities in Texas, California and Illinois. In addition, the group met with many stakeholders, and toured the family detention center in Dilley, Texas.

During its investigation, the Working Group met with 280 detained individuals to gather information from their situations and experiences. Among the preliminary findings focused on immigration detention:

  • Family detention should be abolished.
  • Mandatory detention must end.
  • Government-funded legal representation should be provided to detainees.

Additionally, the group found that “While immigration detention should be civil, i.e. non-punitive, in nature, we observed during our visits to various immigration facilities that people are being detained under punitive conditions that are often indistinguishable from those applicable to persons subject to criminal punishment.” The Working Group further stated, “There are serious economic and racial disparities that are affecting the fairness of the entire justice system,” including pointing out barriers in accessing legal representation, and lengthy pre-trial detention. A full list of the findings is available on the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights website.

Next, the Working Group will deliberate in Geneva and they expect to issue a report which will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in September 2017. However, I sincerely hope that long before that, we will see the end of family detention and the shredding of due process that the last few years have brought.

Until our country gets this right, we, and the world, need to keep up the fight. So please, volunteer at Dilley, Karnes, or Berks, and help us end this.

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA Immediate Past President