Disability Rights California Uncovers Significant Deficiencies after Monitoring all California Facilities that House Unaccompanied and Separated Immigrant Children

Press Release

(Sacramento, CA - June 28, 2019) This week, on behalf of the over 14,000 unaccompanied immigrant children in United States custody, Disability Rights California (DRC) published its findings and recommendations in response to a nearly year-long monitoring of nine Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) grantee facilities across the state of California. These nine ORR grantee facilities and programs contain approximately 300 beds for unaccompanied children. Many of these children experience trauma, symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental health disabilities. Some children in these facilities have physical, sensory, and other disabilities.

DRC utilized its statutory monitoring authority to tour these facilities starting in late July 2018. DRC’s monitoring snapshot paper shines a much-needed light on the conditions and services provided to the children inside. “We spoke to over 150 children across nine facilities and programs in California,” said Katie Mathews, Staff Attorney with the Investigations Unit at DRC. “These brave children told us about all that they have encountered including pepper spray, isolation from the outside world, abrupt early morning wake-up calls mere minutes or hours before they were placed on airplanes or in cars with no indication where they were headed, and limited phone interaction with family.”

Investigating attorneys at DRC also uncovered meager and cursory educational assessments, inadequate mental health and medical evaluations and care, and the overrepresentation of children with disabilities at ORR’s most restrictive facilities. DRC found that children reporting mental health issues and suicidal ideation potentially faced penalties such as placement in higher security facilities.

“Our report highlights multiple ways ORR policies and practices are deficient. In light of ORR’s recent decision to terminate funding for educational, recreational, and legal services for these children, DRC is concerned about the impacts on their physical, mental, and emotional health,” said Katie Mathews.

DRC’s report underscores how unaccompanied immigrant children are being underserved, especially in comparison to other children in the state of California. “Immigrant children with disabilities have a right to the same level of care and services as any other child in California. Our government is responsible for the care of these children,” said Liz Logsdon, Registered Legal Services Attorney with DRC and Manager of the Investigations Unit. “As our report demonstrates, ORR standards fail to meet the needs of immigrant children with disabilities. It is past time for federal and state action on behalf of immigrant children in our government's custody.”

The snapshot report emphasizes the need for more oversight of these facilities and significant changes to current ORR policy. In addition, DRC’s monitoring highlights the need for ORR and other entities to rethink the detention of these children. “Children with disabilities can be disproportionally affected by detention conditions as their disabilities may go unidentified or they may not receive proper treatment, leading to dire consequences in their immigration cases and lives,” said Richard Diaz, Staff Attorney at DRC. “We must find alternatives to detaining children in what often approximates jail-like conditions.”

A copy of the snapshot report is available at: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/post/the-detention-of-immigrant-children-with-disabilities-in-california-a-snapshot