ResourcesPress Release

Families Must be Together in Community-Based Settings: Tent Cities are Inhumane.

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes recent steps by Congress to end the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, but rejects any proposal to detain families in tent cities on military bases. PHR urges the Trump administration and Congress to keep families together in community-based settings, which are humane and effective alternatives to detention.

Homer Venters, MD, director of programs at PHR, said tent cities are tantamount to jails.

“Children do not belong in tent cities any more than they belong in cages or jails. Detaining children for any reason violates international law and is harmful. Placing children in sprawling camps, which would not meet minimum child welfare requirements, would not mitigate this harm. While ending the policy of family separation is basic human decency, alternatives must follow the child’s best interest. That is the law,” Venters said.

More than 13,500 doctors and other health experts have signed an open letter authored by PHR and sent last week to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging an end to the family separation policy. The letter stated that traumatic events like forced separation inflict profound harm to children’s physical and mental health and development, with sometimes lifelong and even inter-generational effects. Keeping children and families in tent cities is substantively no different than detention. In fact, physical conditions in tent cities are likely to be far worse and are also likely to put children at risk of trauma. Research by legal and policy groups has demonstrated that community-based case management programming has extremely high rates of success in ensuring cooperation and compliance with immigration enforcement procedures, while costing tax-payers far less per person than detention does.

Extensive clinical evidence shows that detention has negative health effects on children, and PHR research over the past two decades has documented the harm of indefinite detention on noncitizens generally.

Kathryn Hampton, Asylum Network program officer at PHR, said detention in tent cities will undoubtedly cause trauma to children.

“Such detention is unwarranted, unnecessary, and harmful, particularly for people seeking refuge and who are already traumatized by the violence they are escaping. Seeking asylum is a human right, not a loophole. The U.S. government is obligated to respect that right in conformity with due process instead of dismantling longstanding humanitarian protections for people facing violence or persecution. Alternatives to detention have been effectively implemented in previous administrations over past decades and should be the policy preference today,” Hampton explained.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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