signingThis week, the nation’s largest association of immigration attorneys and professors sent a powerful letter to Congress and the President urging them to immediately close the family detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico, where the U.S. currently detains women and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The letter, signed by attorneys who have spent significant time in Artesia and who serve in leadership positions with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), are urging Congress to “reverse its deportation and detention strategy” and “to oppose the inhumane practices that are taking place at Artesia and any funding requests for the detention of families.”

One of the signatories on the letter, Laura Licther, has been a vocal critic of the conditions in Artesia and the practice of putting mothers and children “in jail.” Another attorney on the letter, Stephen Manning, has spent extensive time in Artesia and chronicles attorneys’ experiences in a series of videos.

The AILA letter states:

Based on hundreds of interviews with these detained families that our expert lawyers have conducted, AILA has concluded that Artesia is a due process failure and a humanitarian disaster that cannot be fixed and must be closed immediately. Attorneys with long histories of representing clients at remote detention facilities have described Artesia as not just the worst situation they have ever encountered, but something far worse than anything they could have imagined.

The letter also cites specific examples of concerns with the asylum process in Artesia, including:

many legitimate asylum claims will never have a chance to be heard. Artesia detainees are subjected to “expedited removal” – the fastest removal procedure at our government’s disposal, with little chance to raise an asylum claim. The detention and rapid deportation strategy being executed at Artesia is even more draconian. The rate at which Artesia asylum officers find that detainees have a “credible fear” of persecution or torture – the first step in mounting an asylum claim in expedited removal – is much lower than the national average.

The speed with which officers are making credible fear decisions is also absurdly fast: 6.4 days on average.

Finally, the letter describes the humanitarian nightmare this detention center has become:

AILA member volunteers see the effects that detention is having on these families. They describe children who are dehydrated, listless, cold and losing weight. Mothers also report degrading treatment by some of the guards – including being called “piggies” at mealtimes. One woman suffering from diarrhea had no choice but to defecate on herself in front of her son because the guard ignored her pleas to be allowed to go to the bathroom.

It’s become increasingly clear that the family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, is a black mark on our history and tradition as a nation that provides fair and humane treatment to those in need of our protection. Congress and the White House must take seriously the concerns raised by lawyers who have spent hours inside the jail talking with the women and children there. Given that the government is planning to drastically expand family detention, now is the time to take an honest look at how we are processing and treating families in Artesia and what is the impact of detention on mothers and young children fleeing violence.