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120 NGOs advocating for immigrant and refugee rights called today for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to free all families being held at family detention centers by swiftly and safely releasing them. The organizations object to any actions that force parents into impossible choices between indefinite detention with their children in deadly conditions during a global pandemic or possibly permanent separations from them.

“Detained families must now be afforded the fair chance to seek asylum they never received, and they should be paroled from detention during their asylum proceedings. These families are living with unthinkable fear and anxiety – not knowing if they will be released, if they will contract COVID-19, or if ICE will seek to try to separate them again, as it attempted in mid-May,” organizations wrote in the letter.

Family separation produced by coercive “choice” violates multiple human rights, including the right to family unity, the right to liberty, and the requirement to prioritize the best interests of the child. Family separation can violate the right to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The detention of children is not in their best interests, and their separation from parents is only lawful in exceptional circumstances, such as when a child faces imminent harm. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has categorically called on all states to end the practice of immigration detention of children, and to maintain family unity through alternatives to detention.

As the court’s deadline for release of children rapidly approaches, organizations are calling on ICE to exercise its legal authority and discretion to release families together on parole and/or into alternative-to-detention programs, as it has done historically.

View the undersigned organizations and read the full letter here.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Mariya Parodi, [email protected]