Update: Good news! On August 8, 2017 three-year old Josué was granted his release from Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania where he had been imprisoned for over 16 months. He and his 28-year-old mother Teresa fled kidnapping threats and physical and sexual assault in Honduras before arriving in the US seeking asylum. Josué has spent over half his life in detention, learning to walk and talk in confinement.
Despite this good news, the fight to free all the children being held at Berks is far from over. The continued senseless imprisonment of Antonio, Carlos and Michael goes against our country’s shared values of equality and dignity. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should release the remaining families and the Department of Homeland Security must shut down family detention centers like Berks once and for all.
Antonio (7), Carlos (4), Josué (3), Michael (16) and their mothers Marlene, Lorena, Teresa and Maribel (all names changed to protect identities) have been held at the Berks County Residential Center, a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centre in Pennsylvania, for over 500 days. Each family is seeking asylum in the US after fleeing traumatic and life-threatening events, including kidnapping threats and severe physical and sexual violence, in their home countries of Honduras and El Salvador. The Berks County centre currently holds 34 families, many of whom come from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, a region where Amnesty International has documented extreme levels of violence and insecurity.
The families report declining physical and mental health in the detention centre. Josué suffers from severe allergies, and his mother has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which, according to an independent psychological evaluation, is worsening in part due to detention. An independent doctor diagnosed Michael with depression, while his mother has a visible lump in her breast that may require surgery.
Authorities granted all four children Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in late 2016 and each have pending applications for legal permanent residence. To obtain SIJS, a state court determined that it is not in the minors’ best interest to return to his or her home country. Under US law, a minor with SIJS is considered to have been paroled in the US. Authorities issued three of the children their Employment Authorization Document in January 2017 while the fourth awaits his. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals granted all four mothers stays of removal while they challenge their removal orders in federal court. Additionally, each of the four families has an unchallenged sponsor in the US who is willing to take them in and ensure their appearance in court. Despite this, their SIJ status, compelling grounds for asylum and protection, and mental and physical health concerns, ICE officials refuse to release these four children and their mothers. There is no justification under international law to continue to detain them and US law does not provide sufficient basis for their release