AILA Public Statements

CARA: Family Detention System Fails Indigenous Language-Speaking Families

12/10/15 AILA Doc. No. 15121013. Asylum, Detention & Bond, Removal & Relief

SAN ANTONIO, TX -Indigenous language speakers are facing serious obstacles in procuring access to justice while they are held in family detention centers, argues the latest formal complaint filed today by the partners in the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project with DHS's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Office of Inspector General.

Drawing on the CARA Project's experience with more than 250 indigenous language-speaking families detained in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas, the complaint brings the challenges that these families face into sharp focus. These challenges include: inadequate screening at the border and within family detention centers; a lack of interpretive services for other interactions with government officials, subcontractors (including medical staff) and service providers; and a lack of written materials in indigenous languages.

The lack of adequate language services for indigenous families has led to:

  • Wrongful deportations of families;
  • Extended delays in processing and lengthier detention for mothers and children;
  • Lack of informed consent by mothers and children to medical treatment; and
  • Inability of children to meaningfully participate in school while detained.

The U.S. government is obligated to ensure that indigenous language speakers have meaningful access to federal programs and activities. The complaint recommends that DHS:

  • Provide qualified interpreters for all indigenous language speakers, either by phone or in person, at the time of apprehension and during any period of detention.
  • Provide translations of written materials that are reflective of literacy and education levels in the following languages: Akateco, Kanjobal, Quiche, Kekchi, Mam, Maya, Popti, Achi, Garifuna, Kaqchikel, Chuj, Ixil, and Lenca. Undertake a comprehensive review of the availability of interpreters in the above-referenced languages.
  • Appoint counsel for indigenous language speakers who would otherwise be unrepresented at any stage of the removal process.
  • Indigenous language speakers identified at apprehension should be immediately released with a Notice to Appear. Families released by CBP should be given clear instructions on when and where to appear in court.
  • Where indigenous language speakers have been issued in absentia removal orders, DHS should move to reopen those orders.
  • End the inhumane and problematic practice of detaining immigrant children and their mothers, which would resolve many of the problems described in the complaint.

Press inquiries, please contact:
AILA: Belle Woods,, 202-507-7675
Council: Wendy Feliz,, 202-507-7524
RAICES: Mohammad Abdollahi,, 210-544-7811
CLINIC: Patricia Zapor,, 301-565-4830 ###

The CARA Pro Bono Project is a partnership of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), the American Immigration Council (Council), Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), that provides legal representation and undertakes advocacy on behalf of women and children held in federal family detention centers and works to end family detention.