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As negotiations began this week in Los Angeles over the fate of hundreds of immigrant mothers and children languishing in detention centers in remote areas of Texas and Pennsylvania, 188 advocacy organizations, including Tahirih Justice Center, called on President Obama to end the prolonged detention of children with their mothers in jail-like conditions in the United States.

The organizations urged Obama to end the traumatic and unjust practice in a letter sent on May 11.

A federal district judge in Los Angeles indicated in late April that she believes the Department of Homeland Security’s current policy of mass family detention violates the rights of all children in immigration custody. The judge gave DHS 30 days to meet with plaintiffs and propose a workable solution.

Tahirih Houston provided support for the Los Angeles lawsuit as part of its ongoing emergency response to the surge of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the women and children who have been detained by DHS have experienced human trafficking, sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence.

“We are deeply concerned about the conditions of the detention centers where families are being held for indefinite periods. The practice of mass detention re-traumatizes mothers and children who have already suffered so much, and it inhibits their ability to access justice as provided in our laws. One of my clients, who was detained along with her 2-year-old daughter, was held for months without adequate mental health care in a harsh, prison-like environment that was completely inappropriate for her and her child. The indefinite, prolonged, and arbitrary detention of children and their mothers must stop,” said Anne Chandler, Director of Tahirih Houston.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the capacity to detain some 3,000 women and children at any time in jail-like facilities in Karnes City, Texas; Dilley, Texas; and Leesport, Pennsylvania.

As an established leader in protecting the rights of women and children seeking refuge in the United States, Tahirih Houston has served a number of mothers and children detained at a facility in Karnes City, Texas.

Under the 1997 class action settlement in Flores v. Johnson, immigration authorities are required to place children in the least restrictive setting appropriate while also treating them “with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.” Children should be given a fair opportunity for release on bond or recognizance pending proceedings to determine whether they may remain in the United States.

“Prolonged detention of women and children refugees is a moral and legal failure, and we must act now to end this inhumane treatment of survivors of violence,” said Archi Pyati, Director of Policy and Programs at Tahirih.

Read the letter to Obama here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters