Senate and House Introduce the Freedom For Families Act

Legislation sponsored by Senator Merkley and Representative Jayapal would bar tax dollars from being spent on immigrant family prisons

Press Contacts:
Jasmine Rivera, [email protected], 480-628-4032
Jessica Ortiz, [email protected]

April 29, 2021, Washington D.C. – On Thursday, April 29th, companion bills known as the Freedom For Families Act will be introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7th District). This legislation would bar the continued spending of tax dollars on immigrant family prisons and put an end to the detention of families. The Family Liberation Abolitionist Network – a newly formed network of organizations and individuals across the country fighting to end family detention, endorses the legislation and calls on Congress to pass the Freedom from Families Act.

WHAT: Virtual Press Conference. Speakers will include a mother held in family detention for two years and statements from formerly detained parents
WHEN: Thursday, April 29th, 2020, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST
WHERE: [REDACTED] Recording available here
WHO: Family Liberation Abolitionist Network

The pandemic has highlighted what we’ve known all along — that ICE prisons are unsafe for anyone, for any amount of time. In fact, a recent New York Times investigation found that ICE detention facilities had an average infection rate five times that of prisons and 20 times that of the general population.

Pandemic or not – there is never a humane way to incarcerate families and children. While the Biden administration has moved away from long-term family detention and released families held at the family detention centers for months, they have made no commitment to end the practice of family detention all together. Now is the opportunity to put an end to the immoral and inhumane practice of family incarceration and ensure that no child or family is threatened by detention or separation because they are seeking safety.

The Family Liberation Abolitionist Network celebrates the introduction of the Freedom for Families Act as a step toward ending family detention and permanently shutting down all family prisons. The legislation would ensure that no federal dollars can be used for the operation and construction of family detention facilities and would end operations of currently open family detention centers following a 30-day phase out period.

The Family Liberation Abolitionist Network calls on Congress to support and equip communities and community led programs to humanely receive and welcome migrant families. Congress, as well as the Biden administration, must ensure that no family ever faces detention again.


Transcript of speech and statements from formerly detained families. Full recording of the press conference here.  

EN – “My name is Lorena. Unfortunately, I came looking for refuge with my son who was only three years old and that was in 2015. And unfortunately, I was detained at Berks for more than 700 days. But now, thank God, I am free. I am very happy to be part of this press conference. Thank you for the opportunity you have given me. My message is for those who have power, especially the President, to please put an end to detention, especially the center at Berks that everyone knows is a prison. Some say it is not a prison but it is because I have lived there. One does not have the freedom that you desire, you are always in custody, therefore it is a prison.

So, I ask the President with all respect to please put a stop to detention at Berks. And that you should not lock someone up regardless of their origin, their race, their color, their religion. And that it causes great harm to the families. I say this from personal experience. I was there for more than a year, almost two [years]. And it has cost me a lot to try to get over it, I don’t even like to remember it. For this reason, I ask that we join together and that we don’t allow more families to be held in that place. And even less, consider using the second floor of that building to lock up more families. We are in a pandemic and we need to keep that in mind. The trauma is very difficult. My wish is that we could use the detention center for good works but not as a jail. Because it is true that we came with trauma from our own country only to end up in another place with another trauma. My wish, with all my heart, is that the center be closed and that not one family, not one child, is there because it is difficult to be there. Thank you very much.”

ES – “Mucho gusto, mi nombre es Lorena. Lastimosamente vine de mi país buscando refugio con mi hijo de apenas tres años, eso fue en el 2015. Y lastimosamente caí en la detención de Berks por más de 700 días. Pero ahora, gracias a Dios, estoy libre. Me siento muy contenta de ser parte de esta conferencia de prensa. Gracias por la oportunidad que me brinda. Mi mensaje es para los que tienen el poder, especialmente el presidente, que por favor pueda poner el alto a la detención, y más al centro de Berks, como todos saben es una cárcel. Ellos dirán que no es una cárcel, pero lo es, porque he vivido allí. No cuenta uno con la libertad que uno desea, siempre está custodiado, entonces es una cárcel.

Entonces yo le pido al Sr. presidente con todo respeto que por favor puede poner un alto a la detención de Berks. Y que no pueda encerrar a ninguna familia sin importar su origen, sin importar su raza, su color, su religión. Y que es un gran daño que eso le hace a las familias. Lo digo por experiencia propia. Yo estuve allá por más de un año, casi dos [años]. Y me ha costado mucho salir de ese tema, incluso no me gusta recordarlo. Por eso yo le pido que nos sumamos, cada uno también, para que no permitamos que más familias puedan estar en ese lugar. Y mucho menos usar el otro piso de ese edificio para encerrar más familias. Estamos en una pandemia y tenemos que tomar en cuenta eso. Es un trauma muy difícil. Mi deseo es que se pudiera usar ese centro de detención para obras mejores, pero no para una cárcel. Porque de por sí nosotros venimos con trauma de nuestro país para poder venir a otro lugar a otro trauma. Mi deseo de todo corazón que ese centro sea cerrado y que no haya ni una familia, ni un niño, porque es muy difícil estar allí. Muchas gracias.”

EN – “One imprisoned cannot do anything that they need to do. We spent six months detained in jail. The officers don’t give you a hand. We came for a better future and they understand everything to the contrary. To them, you don’t matter. To be imprisoned six months is nothing easy. I would pass the day there with nothing to do. The boy would cry for his mother, that he wants to be with his mother, and the officers would administer drugs to not feel anything for the family. I did not know how to console my son because I was also imprisoned. I couldn’t communicate with him. We were without communication with the outside world. We were separate from the outside world for three months. I couldn’t even feel like a father, you can’t do anything while imprisoned without release.” –  statement is from a father who spent six months incarcerated, three separated from his son under Zero Tolerance and three with his son in Karnes family prison. 

ES – “Uno encarcelado no puede hacer nada de lo que necesita hacer. Pasamos seis meses detenidos en la cárcel. Los oficiales no te echan una mano. Vinimos por un futuro mejor y ellos entienden todo lo contrario. Para ellos, no les importa. Estar encarcelado seis meses no es nada fácil. Pasaría el día allí sin nada que hacer. El niño lloraba por su madre, que quiere estar con su madre, y los oficiales le administraban drogas para no sentir nada por la familia. No supe consolar a mi hijo porque yo también estaba detenido. No pude comunicarme con él. Estábamos sin comunicación con el mundo exterior. Estuvimos separados del mundo exterior durante tres meses. Ni siquiera podía sentirme como un padre, no puedes hacer nada mientras estás preso sin ser liberado.”

EN – “We feel like a canoe in the middle of the ocean, without a place to anchor. We fled Haiti due to government violence against us. We were university students speaking out against human rights abuse, injustice. We were attacked, beaten and barely escaped. My wife was pregnant, they raped her and unfortunately lost the baby due to the sexual assault. We were forced to flee our home. First, we went to Chile, where racism and xenophobia forced us out again. We came to the US thinking ‘this is where we will find refuge’, only to be thrown in prison for more than 8 months. It is extremely painful to watch my baby growing up in this jail where I have absolutely no control over his well-being. He is often sick and unable to eat but I am forced to watch my baby crying and can’t even help him. We are human beings too; our children are human beings too and should not have to suffer like that.” statement from a Haitian father who was held at Berks for ten months with his toddler and wife during the pandemic.

ES- “Nos sentimos como una canoa en medio del océano, sin un lugar donde anclar. Huimos de Haití debido a la violencia del gobierno contra nosotros. Éramos estudiantes universitarios que protestaban contra la injusticia y el abuso de los derechos humanos. Fuimos atacados, golpeados y apenas escapamos. Mi esposa estaba embarazada, la violaron y lamentablemente tuvo un aborto espontáneo debido a la agresión sexual. Nos vimos obligados a huir de nuestra casa. Primero fuimos a Chile, donde el racismo y la xenofobia nos obligaron a salir nuevamente. Llegamos a los Estados Unidos pensando ‘aquí es donde encontraremos refugio’, solo para ser encarcelados por más de 8 meses. Es extremadamente doloroso ver a mi bebé crecer en esta cárcel donde no tengo absolutamente ningún control sobre su bienestar. A menudo está enfermo y no puede comer, pero me veo obligada a ver llorar a mi bebé y ni siquiera puedo ayudarlo. Nosotros también somos seres humanos, nuestros hijos también son seres humanos y no deberíamos tener que sufrir así”