July 8, 2016 STATEMENT — Decision by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Further Confirms the Need to Stop Locking Up Immigrant Mothers and Children

Press Contacts:

Miji Bell
mbell@lirs.org; 410-230-2811

 Michelle Blundell
mblundell@mrss.com; 202-478-6176

WASHINGTON, DC – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) applauds this week’s decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the U.S. District Court’s unequivocally ruled accompanied children are protected under the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, affirming the July 2015 ruling by Judge Dolly Gee of the Central District Court of California. The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which was issued nearly two decades ago, instructs the government to use the least restrictive custody for children and release them in order of the child’s preference, and hold children in licensed facilities only as a last resort.

This decision further confirms what we’ve known all along: the Administration’s goal of deterring refugee mothers and children by locking them up is in clear violation of their obligations under Flores. We call on the Administration to return to our nation’s values of welcoming the stranger and start protecting refugee moms and children instead of punishing them.

While this week’s decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a step in the right direction, the Court ruled that the lower court inaccurately placed the burden on DHS to justify accompanying parents’ continued detention but refrained from deciding whether DHS is complying with their obligations for an individualized custody determination. The Court leaves the Administration with a choice—either to separate children from their mothers and continue to lock up refugee mothers or to return to a policy that considers the best interests of the child by releasing mothers and children following apprehension. The Administration has a number of proven alternatives to detention it can employ instead; it’s time they start allowing mothers and children to meaningfully access them in an indiscriminate way and actually give moms and their kids a fair chance to submit their claims for legal protection.

LIRS calls on the Obama Administration to abide by Flores immediately and refrain from appealing or seeking to stay the order. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should release detained mothers and children as quickly and as safely as possible.

“We in the Lutheran community are encouraged by this week’s decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Our faith and moral values underscore the need to uphold family unity and ensure that the best interests of children are being considered. The Administration’s refusal to abide by the Flores Agreement goes against this,” said Linda Hartke, President and CEO of LIRS. “We hope this decision will finally compel the Administration to comply with an agreement that has long guided how we treat mothers and their children who have come to our country seeking protection and safety. These children cannot afford to wait any longer.”

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Founded in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is the second largest refugee resettlement agency in the United States. It is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. Through more than 75 years of service and advocacy, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.