New Report: Public Health Crisis Facing Immigrant Children Needs Urgent Attention
New York, NY — To counteract the current administration’s disregard for the health and humanity of those in federal detention facilities, the incoming administration must act quickly to implement policies that address the needs of people, especially children, who have been impacted by detention, argues a new report out today from Next100, a start-up think tank by and for the next generation of policy leaders.
Despite the well-founded concern from public health officials that jails, detention centers, and prisons are breeding grounds for COVID-19, detention centers have only released a very small portion of their populations within the United States—even though many people currently being held can be safely released, namely children and their families.
“The children of immigrants comprise a large percentage of this country’s future, and it’s only right we invest in their healing,” said Rosario Quiroz Villarreal, Next100 Policy Entrepreneur on immigration, as well as a formerly undocumented immigrant and teacher. “Our current policies put the health and futures of immigrant children at risk. Our report offers a roadmap for the next administration that will keep these children healthy while they learn and grow.”
“The criminal justice system and the immigrant detention system are equally unjust in their treatment of children and families,” said Isabel Coronado, Next100 Policy Entrepreneur on criminal justice and the daughter of a formerly incarcerated parent. “The policies that we enact now to keep families together and reduce trauma experienced by children will have a lasting impact for generations.”
The report compiles extensive examples of how the federal government’s immigration policies and response to COVID-19 have produced needless public and mental health crises among detainees, particularly children, and outlines the policies needed to address the immediate and long-term needs of the children most affected.
Recently released data found that Haitian families have been especially affected, accounting for 44 percent (a plurality) of the families in detention between March and June 2020, and facing bail bonds set 64 percent higher than those for other detainees.
“One of the girls just turned 4, and speaking with the parents, seeing their faces and hearing their voices—you know they’re not doing well,” Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, told Next100. “They’re just trying to survive. It is traumatizing for parents to see their children in those conditions, on occasions like birthdays. Children pick up on all of that: they develop a sense that their families cannot protect them.”
Policy recommendations outlined in the report include:
Stop the unjust detention and deportation of immigrants and asylum seekers.
- Halt the promotion of “deterrence” strategies and restore asylum. The decision the U.S. government has made to close its doors to refugees and asylum seekers makes the journey to the United States all the more perilous for those seeking refuge.
- Refuse to separate families and immediately look for safe alternatives within the United States. One way to avoid family separations is to find alternatives to incarceration that allow children to stay with their families, and to remain outside the confines of detention centers. Such alternatives to detention—and more broadly, to any form of incarceration—are a much needed priority both during the pandemic and after, as mass incarceration poses significant negative long-term effects on children at substantial public cost.
- Ensure due process and fair outcomes through universal legal representation. Immigrants who are not facing a felony conviction do not have the right to government-funded legal representation before immigration courts, which means that children often show up to court expected to represent themselves, a situation that neglects their right to due process. State and local governments have already begun to invest in deportation defense programs that afford immigrants access to legal counsel, but federal leadership is needed to ensure consistent access.
Ensure detention centers heed public health measures and provide access to linguistically accessible health care services. For those who are detained, the government must recognize that it is assuming responsibility over that person’s life, and that this responsibility includes protecting their health. Implementing public health measures, like those published by Human Rights First in collaboration with experts, would make clear that safeguarding public health while respecting the rights and lives of asylum seekers are not mutually exclusive.
Invest in the well-being of immigrant children and families harmed by DHS policy.
- Rethink and redirect investment in immigration enforcement agencies. Government spending on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has grown from $9.9 billion in 2003 to a current budget of $25.3 billion, a growth of 255 percent. Data shows that many of the individuals who have been detained in recent years had either a misdemeanor or no criminal conviction. The billions of dollars the federal government annually pours into ICE and CBP would be better spent on proactive public health measures that enhance our collective well-being.
- Fund linguistically and culturally relevant mental health services for families impacted by DHS. All families who have been subject to detention should have free access to licensed mental health professionals equipped with the language and context to support them through the stress and trauma of detention by a government agency.
- Fund trauma-informed practices in schools. Studies have detailed what trauma-informed practices for immigrant and refugee youth should look like in clinical settings and within the child welfare system, but more can be done in public classrooms throughout the country. Educators and administrators need to be familiar with the ways trauma and toxic stress can show up in the classroom because of family separation or the fear of it.
Next100 is a startup think tank for and by the next generation of policy leaders, powered by The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank. Next100 is working to change the face and future of progressive policy, and to build a more inclusive, equal, and just America.