December 18th marks the annual observation of International Migrants Day, an occasion dedicated to promoting and protecting the human rights and freedoms of migrants. Anyone who changes their country of residence is considered a migrant; refugees are outside of their countries of origin because their safety has been compromised by conflict, fear of persecution, or violence.
Between 2020 and 2021, the number of unaccompanied children at the southern border increased by 374%. In the same time period, the number of persons traveling with families, such as mothers who are seeking asylum, increased by 763%. Migrants may choose to leave their homes for a variety of reasons, but the influx at the southern border can be traced back to survivors fleeing staggering rates of gender-based violence. These survivors are entitled to seeking asylum at the border but are often denied the chance.
Among those women and mothers with children who are given a chance to ask for asylum, an overwhelming majority – 88% –demonstrate to a U.S. asylum officer that they may win asylum when they appear before the immigration judge. Many women susceptible to DHS detention in the United States have survived domestic abuse, sexual violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence. Our Righting the Wrong report expands on unjust detention policy, centering the experiences of women and children.
For this International Migrants Day, in solidarity with migrants and refugees, Tahirih condemns detention and other unjust US immigration enforcement tactics. These tactics do little to maintain US security, serving instead as deterrence for migrants who are allowed by U.S. law to seek safety, justice, and a new home. By depriving migrants of basic needs, unjust detention is structural violence targeted at the very survivors who demand justice through their relocation.
The U.S. policy of detention results in the incarceration of these migrants, including mothers with children who are seeking asylum. Migrants, and survivors of gender-based violence, are unjustly held in prison-like conditions with minimal access to lawyers, counselors, and trauma-informed health care. Because they are denied access to basic care, the mental and physical health of migrants can be damaged. In some cases, survivors in DHS detention have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of male guards. For children who are detained, their psychosocial development is also at risk. Ultimately, detention further traumatizes survivors, while offering little to no benefits to the U.S. immigration system.
In acknowledgement of the injustice faced by migrants and refugees who are detained, the U.S. should devote its vast economic and political power to addressing the systemic conditions that lead individuals to leave their homes, families, and lives. Instead of investing in mechanisms of division, the U.S. government’s approach to immigration should promote the dignity of all. To value the securing of borders over the dignity of fellow human beings is to stand in the path of equity, justice, and unity.