Position Statement – 2019
Inhumane Immigration Detention of Women and Children
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) calls for federal authorities to immediately end the inhumane and illegal treatment of children and provide access by attorneys, journalists and lawmakers as well as oversight to facilities operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). WBASNY urges Congress to pass a supplemental appropriations bill to ensure the proper and humane treatment and care of unaccompanied immigrant children in government custody. Further, we call on the administration to enforce laws, settlements and policies that guarantee humane, minimal standards of care for vulnerable children, no matter how they arrived in our country. This includes the enforcement of federal law which requires that within 72 hours of apprehension by CBP, unaccompanied immigrant children be released into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
As an organization with a mission to protect women and children, WBASNY is outraged by the credible reports from public officials, human rights groups, and journalists regarding hundreds of children being forcibly removed from their families at the southern border of the United States, and held in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in violation of federal and state law, court settlements, and fundamental human rights principles. The practice of caging children and isolating them from their families is unacceptable and inhumane, and prolonged separation of families has been shown to cause permanent psychological and emotional damage to children.
The U.S. Department of Justice has argued that bedding, soap, showers and toothbrushes are not necessary to maintain “safe and sanitary” conditions for immigrant children in federal custody. This reasoning reflects a flagrant disregard for the basic human rights of unaccompanied immigrant children and well-established standards for their care while in custody, in accordance with both domestic policies and international law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a plethora of widely ratified international conventions embody a universal resolve that children are distinct from adults, are deserving of special protections, and should be placed in environments which provide for their physical, psychological and emotional well-being and security, in order to develop to their fullest potential.
Guided by these same principles and an awareness that children are inherently vulnerable, the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement sets minimum standards for the custody, care and release of unaccompanied immigrant children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, and mandates that children are to be placed in the least restrictive of settings. We are aware that the current administration has passed a rule that removes many of the protections provided by the Flores Settlement. Amongst other detriments, this rule would allow for the indefinite detention of children, and is clearly contrary to the advice of child experts across various faculties, including medical professionals, mental health providers, social workers, and legal advocates.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that focused on the history of exposure to childhood trauma in 17,000 adults concluded that there is a correlation between high numbers of what the researchers titled Adverse Childhood Experiences and an increased risk of having 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death. Findings from the study showed that high instances of infantile and childhood traumatic events reduce life expectancy by 20 years, triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer, adversely affect brain development, the immune system and the hormonal system, as well as how DNA is read and/or transcribed.
WBASNY thus has zero tolerance for any failure of this administration to establish and follow sound procedures which ensure that during every stage of screening, unaccompanied immigrant children are treated with the utmost dignity and respect and shielded from further traumatization after they enter the United States.
We are also deeply concerned about recent reports that menstruating women and girls being held in detention centers on our borders are being denied adequate access to feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads. Detainees have reported being limited to one tampon or pad per day and being forced to bleed through their clothing. In addition to causing unnecessary humiliation and trauma to these vulnerable women and girls, this is a serious health care issue. For example, forcing migrant detainees to only use one tampon per day could lead to toxic shock syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. WBASNY strongly condemns the lack of adequate health care in migrant detention centers, particularly the restriction of access to sanitary products for menstruating women and girls and urges the Department of Homeland Security to rectify these conditions immediately.
The nearly 4,300 members of WBASNY include attorneys, judges, and law students. With 20 chapters throughout New York State, WBASNY speaks with one voice to advocate for equal access to justice and gender equality. WBASNY is a Non-Governmental Organization in association with the UN Department of Public Information and with Special Consultative Status in affiliation with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, thereby allowing WBASNY to participate in the work of the United Nations to advocate for the rights of women and children worldwide.