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This article was originally published on February 17, 2015.

Houston office joins advocates in federal petition to halt mass detention of vulnerable refugee women and children

Lawyers for detained Central American families filed a motion on Feb. 2 in federal court challenging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to uphold its commitment to treat immigrant children fairly and to discontinue its “no-release” policy for Central American women and children, some 1,000 of whom are currently detained in jail-like facilities in Karnes City, Texas, Dilley, Texas, and Leesport, Pennsylvania.

Tahirih Houston contributed to the petition, providing a declaration to support the challenge to the inhumane detention of children. As a leader in the protecting the rights of women and children seeking refuge in the United States, Tahirih Houston has served a number of children and their families in the Houston area as well as those detained at the Karnes City, Texas facility. As such, Tahirih is deeply concerned about both the conditions of the detention centers in which children and their mothers are being held, as well as its indefinite nature.

Under a 1997 class action settlement in Flores v. Johnson, immigration authorities should 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.

The motion to enforce this settlement argues that DHS is violating Flores by its no-release policy for children apprehended with their mothers at the border; by holding children in secure (lock-down) facilities that are not licensed to take care of dependent children; and by subjecting children to unduly harsh conditions in short term detention facilities near the border. The motion to enforce the Flores settlement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

“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 Public Policy at Tahirih.

The Texas detention centers are run by for-profit prison companies Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group under contract with ICE.

Counsel for plaintiffs include the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, La Raza Centro Legal, Inc., the Youth Law Center, and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

A hearing in the case is set for March 9.