7-year-old girl and dad finally released after horrific 250 days at migrant family jail

7-year-old girl and dad finally released after horrific 250 days at migrant family jail

In a major victory for advocacy groups that have been pushing for their release, a seven-year-old child and her dad were finally freed from a migrant family jail in Pennsylvania after a horrific 250 days in detention, Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “Maddie had spent more time inside than any child currently held in the country’s three family detention centers, the two others are in Texas.”

Philadelphia Inquirer had previously reported that the girl had “become deeply depressed” while detained at Berks County Residential Center—child welfare experts have said that even short amounts of detention are harmful to kids. But upon the family’s release on Tuesday, Philadelphia Inquirer said, Maddie seemed more concerned about her dad than herself. “’Daddy, why are you crying?’ the child asked as her father wept after the release.”

The facility where Maddie and her dad—who are asylum-seekers originally from Guatemala—had been held is endangering many other families by refusing to release them amid the coronavirus crisis, a new lawsuit said. According to that complaint, some families are already showing symptoms of COVID-19, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hasn’t bothered to so much as tell them “about the fact that there is global pandemic or what precautions they should be taking to prevent the spread of the virus. Petitioners are aware of COVID-19 only from the news on the television.”

ICE also treated Maddie and her dad with complete disregard for their emotional and physical well-being. “A few months ago,” Philadelphia Inquirer continued, “federal immigration authorities had offered to release Maddie to her mother,” who is already here in the U.S. “But they would not free her father, which the family’s lawyers said made the overture merely a different form of family separation, one sure to inflict more harm on a suffering child.” 

GOOD NEWS� Thanks to the wonderful work of @aldea_pjc & @rapid_defense who fought to #FreeMaddie, she and her father are finally free after 10 months in immigration detention. We must continue to #FreeThemAll https://t.co/i64zbJnC7e

— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) April 1, 2020

Maddie’s case, championed by advocates including ALDEA—The People’s Justice Center and Rapid Defense Network—also garnered support from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who urged ICE to immediately release the family. “Most kids are counting the days until the holidays,” he told acting Department of Homeland Security Sec. Chad Wolf in a letter shortly before Christmas. “Maddie is counting the days since she’s seen her mom. At 6 years old, she’s been detained for nearly 200 days. This is unacceptable and an abdication of our values as a nation.”

Casey noted in that letter that he had been told “most families” are released from Berks after 20 days, which is the time limit established by vital court protections. But, as Maddie shows, officials commonly flout this protection, and at other migrant family jails too. Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said last year that officials were jailing kids for as long as 58 says at Karnes County Residential Center, another migrant family jail in Texas.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Monday pressed ICE to release all kids and their parents from migrant family jails in Pennsylvania and Texas amid this pandemic, ordering officials to inform him on their progress regarding the release of families and indicating that he could still order their release “if there are cases in these centers or there are other problems that are not compliant.”

They should be freed without delay, because as Amnesty International USA said in response to Boasberg’s ruling, “each day that a child is detained is a day that poses greater and greater risks.” Just imagine the danger posed by 250 horrific days. Through a tweet sent by Rapid Defense Network, Maddie’s dad said: “As I get out, I hope that no one else enters in the future, because, really, it is very stressful to be in this center.”

#freedmaddie and her dad! https://t.co/Ym0st2YRbJ pic.twitter.com/OjtZFRpuZ1

� Gregory Copeland (@Gregoire1125) April 1, 2020

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