Our nation's current policy on immigration reform and the treatment of refugees is not just disappointing; it is directly opposed to the founding principles and the most enduring values of our nation.
Today, yes today, the United States of America maintains the largest system of immigrant detention camps of any nation on the planet. Not North Korea, not Yemen, not the People's Republic of China, but us. The People of the United States.
Have we not learned the lessons of our shameful internment of Japanese Americans, of Irish immigrants, of our turning away of those fleeing the Holocaust in Nazi Germany?
One year ago, the American Bar Association put forward recommendations for addressing this injustice:
1) Immediately release families held at the Berks, Dilley, and Karnes family detention facilities, cease expansion of the facilities, and do not renew their contracts for family detention;
2) Permanently abandon deterrence-based detention policies;
3) Adopt a presumption against detention and treat release into the community as the general rule, particularly in the case of families, children, and asylum seekers;
4) When release into the community alone is insufficient, employ an objective risk assessment to identify the least restrictive means of achieving the goals of ensuring appearance at hearings and protection of the community, using electronic monitoring and cash bonds only where demonstrably necessary in individual cases;
5) Establish and adhere to clear standards of care that include unique provisions for families and children that do not follow a penal model; and
6) Ensure meaningful access to legal information and representation for all families subjected to detention at every stage of their immigration proceedings.
One year later, none of these recommendations have been followed. And the internment of immigrant and refugee families continues with little to no due process.
The truth is deportation rates increase as legal representation declines. Without effective counsel, the population of the internment camps grows and expands. More and more families are interned and detained for months and months. And all of this is done in our name.
Imagine escaping war-like conditions -- or war itself -- and undertaking the difficult journey of traveling to the United States only to be detained at length behind barbed wire fences.
Women and children are dealt the hardest blow.
According to a report released in July 2015, the chances of women and children being granted asylum increase fourteen times when they have proper legal representation. Yet, women and children only acquire representation 14 percent of the time, whereas individuals are represented 45 percent of the time.
Just a few months ago, an American immigration judge under oath claimed that he has been able to teach three and four-year-old refugee children -- who do not speak English -- how to represent themselves in judicial proceedings.
Are you kidding me?!
These children have fled death gangs in their own countries to seek refuge and asylum in the United States. And our response has been to lock them up and return many of them to these death gangs without the same benefit of counsel that most Americans receive in court when charged with driving on a suspended license.
This is an outrage and should shock the conscience of all Americans.
This is unconscionable, unjust, and un-American.
The enduring symbol of our country is not the barbed wire fence; it is the Statue of Liberty.
It is time we act like it.