Detention of Asylum Seeking Families is an Abuse of Justice

Houston legal services providers and allies condemn the crisis manufactured by Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy; Call on local, state and federal officials to block the indefinite detention of asylum seekers through family detention.

June 22, 2018Tuesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner publicly opposed a new Houston immigrant children’s facility. The Mayor joins calls by Houston immigrants, legal advocates and service providers to local officials, state representatives, and members of Congress to take explicit action to block considerations for any new immigrant child facilities that are a result of the family separation policy. The proposed facility is the result of the federal practice of tearing apart and imprisoning asylum-seeking families, a practice condemned by the immigrant community, advocates, and people of conscience.

On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order that purports to solve the self-made family separation crisis by detaining families together, a tactic that causes irreparable harm to traumatized children and their parents, who are seeking asylum in the U.S. It is not only immoral, but unlawful and would be in violation of the Flores Settlement of 1997 by allowing the indefinite detention of asylum seeking children.

Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said:

“We are in the midst of a manufactured crisis that is creating a false need for new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter in Houston. While the service providers stand ready to help families impacted by family separation and we welcome these families in Houston, we reject the notion that we should enable the build-out of the detention system.

This week, the Mayor seemed to suggest he would be okay with parents and children being detained together, but we strongly believe that asylum seekers should never be imprisoned while seeking refuge in the United States. The detention of families is in the same toolkit as separating families: both are cruel tactics designed to deter immigrants from exercising their rights under national and international law to seek asylum.”

Detention is the biggest hindrance to the exercise of  due process rights by immigrants pursuing legal status in the United States. In Houston, only 13% of detained immigrants have legal representation compared to 69% of non-detained immigrants. Detention facilities are far away from Houston (Conroe, Livingston), attorneys wait for hours to see their clients, and have to speak to their clients through thick plexiglass, which makes basic communication, interpretation, and document signing difficult. When an asylum seeker has legal representation, they are 14 times more likely to win their case.

We  stand opposed to the detention of asylum seekers and call on Congress, the State of Texas, and the City of Houston to not only oppose family separation and family detention, but the detention of asylum seekers in general.

To learn more about HILSC and its program to provide representation to detained families, visit


Organizations and individuals aligned with this statement include:

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston


YMCA Greater Houston

Houston Endowment

The Simmons Foundation

The Alliance


Texas Organizing Project

PAIR – Partnership for the Advancement & Immersion of Refugees

Hindus of Greater Houston

Sikhs of Houston

The Jung Center Houston

The Anti-Defamation League, Southwest Region

United We Dream

Kids in Need of Defense

Fe y Justicia Worker Center

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

Center for Advancing Innovative Policy

Tahirih Justice Center

Refugee Services of Texas


Emgage Texas

TMO, The Metropolitan Organization

Migrant Rights Collective

Justice for Our Neighbors – Houston

The Montrose Center

La Unidad 11

Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services (ECHOS)

Mi Familia Vota

Bonding Against Adversity

Galveston’s Adverse Childhood and Community Experiences Collaborative

Human Rights First

Chinese Community Center

Access Justice Houston

FAM Houston

OCA Greater Houston

Casa Juan Diego: The Houston Catholic Worker

Pantsuit Republic

Indivisible Houston

Black Lives Matter Houston

Montgomery County Women’s Center

Antena Houston

The Modi Law Firm

Pamela Fulbright-Scheyer, Attorney at Law

Teresa Messer, Law Office of Teresa Messer

Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH

Bekhal Saeed-Houston

Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services

Geoffrey Hoffman, Attorney at Law

Virginia C. Angel, JD, MA, LPC

Ruby L. Powers, Powers Law Group, P.C.

Brenda Kirk , Bibles Badges and Business for Immigration Reform

Rosemary Vega, Attorney at Law

The Houston Coalition Against Hate (HCAH) joins many other communities around the country in condemning the message of white supremacist groups this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that they engendered.

We join the many voices around the nation in denouncing the hatred we saw on display, recognizing that this tragedy is not an isolated incident, but rather the manifestation of centuries of systemic violence, racism, and anti-Semitism in this country. We send our condolences to the families of Heather Heyer, Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates, and we hold in our hearts those who were injured while standing up to injustice.

What happened in Charlottesville can serve as a teachable moment for Houston’s residents and leaders. As residents of one of the most diverse cities in the nation, we are proud of our city and our country’s diversity. At times like these, we must speak up, call out, and stand united against cruelty, bigotry and hate. We know that Houston is stronger when all of our communities feel safe in the expression of their unique ethnic and cultural backgrounds and we are committed to ensuring that Houston is an inclusive and welcoming city.

The Houston Coalition Against Hate is a network of community-based organizations in Houston that have come together to collectively address incidents of bias, hate, discrimination and violence against Houstonians because of their religion, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and immigration status.


Alliance for Compassion and Tolerance

American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

Anti-Defamation League – Southwest Region

The Asia Society

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston

The Chinese Community Center

Council on American Islamic Relations – Texas

Daya, Inc.


Holocaust Museum Houston

Houston Endowment

Houston GLBT Political Caucus

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative*

Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston

Justice For Our Neighbors Houston

Migrant Rights Collective

The Montrose Center

My Brothers Keeper (MBK) Houston

OCA-Greater Houston

The Rothko Chapel

Stardust Fund

The Simmons Foundation

Texas Organizing Project

United We Dream – Houston

University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

*The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative is a member of the Coalition Against Hate, which came together in part as a result of the Welcoming Houston recommendations. 

In August of 2016, the City of Houston, BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers) and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative launched the Welcoming Houston initiative, a multi-sector strategic planning effort focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans.

In January, the Welcoming Houston Task Force presented its recommendations to Mayor Turner, highlighting the urgent need for a number of key recommendations in the “Well-being and Security” section.

The mission of Welcoming Houston is to recommend and implement policies and programs that foster the integration of immigrants and refugees into the civic, social, and economic fabric of Houston. This document represents the first step in this mission. The strategic plan and detailed recommendations below call upon public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders to work collaboratively to ensure that Houston is not merely diverse, but pluralistic and committed to equity.

The Welcoming Houston recommendations were compiled with the input of more than 100 individuals, including a 39-member Task Force, 50+ community members and civic leaders across committees covering six different topic areas, a Project Team, and several volunteers. Welcoming Houston participants include immigrant and native-born voices, refugees, documented and undocumented individuals. It also includes those who work with asylees and asylum seekers as well as victims of human trafficking, the LGBTQI community, faith leaders, persons of all abilities, academics and researchers, civil servants, and individuals from the private sector and the education sector. The Task Force also administered a web- and paper-based survey and focus groups to garner ground-level input from immigrant community members.

The planning effort was supported by the Gateways for Growth Challenge, an initiative of Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America.  Houston was one of 20 communities nationwide selected to receive support for immigrant integration planning. We thank NAE and Welcoming America for their assistance in this work.

The implementation of these recommendations will require ongoing collaboration and communication among all stakeholders, accountability measures, transparent metrics, and direct engagement with immigrant individuals and families across Houston. The Collaborative is working on a number of the recommendations as part of its ongoing work to provide high quality legal services to low-income immigrants in Houston.

Download the Welcoming Houston Task Force Recommendations (full document)

Download the summary presentation from January 20, 2017 

December 12, 2016 – At a press conference today, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, along with HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, reiterated that Houston – the most diverse city in the country – is a welcoming and safe place for all who live here.

“The Collaborative supports the Mayor’s commitment to create and uphold policies that assure the safety and well-being of all Houstonians,” says Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) Legal Director Andrea Guttin.  “As a key partner in the Welcoming Houston initiative, HILSC is working to ensure that the legal and social needs of the immigrant and refugee communities in Houston are met.”

Houston is a city of immigrants.  Their history is deeply rooted in our city.  They are our neighbors; they run many small businesses and work in all of Houston’s diverse industries; they are the families at our schools, churches, temples and mosques. One out of every four Houstonians was born outside of the United States.  Attacks on immigrants and other marginalized communities are attacks on working Houston families.  HILSC applauds the Mayor’s pledge to protect everyone – whether Latino, Black, LGBTQ, Muslim, immigrant, refugee, disabled, or none of the above – from hate, discrimination, and other forms of mistreatment.

As members of HILSC, we will continue to provide legal and other services to immigrant and refugee families and other vulnerable communities.  During this time of uncertainty and change, it is critical that immigrants and others who have questions get accurate, reliable information.  Trustworthy organizations that provide free and low-cost immigration legal advice can be found on the Collaborative’s list of member organizations:

Press Coverage

Mayor Turner takes stance on immigration (KHOU – Channel 13)

Officials discuss efforts to welcome immigrants, refugees to Houston (KPRC – Channel 2)

City unveils new office to aid immigrants (Houston Chronicle)

Turner Pledges to Protect Immigrants, But Avoids Calling Houston “Sanctuary City” (Houston Press)

Houston Officials Reiterate They Will Not Ask About Immigration Status, Create New Office To Help (Houston Public Media)

Mayor Turner, HPD chief assure immigrant and refugee community it’s safe despite Trump win (CW39)

Mayor Turner announces initiative to protect immigrants (Fox26)

Sylvester Turner anunció la apertura de una nueva oficina para inmigrantes y refugiados (Univision)

Alcalde Turner rediseña oficina de servicio para inmigrantes (Telemundo)

AUGUST 3, 2016 – The City of Houston Office of International Communities, Neighborhood Centers and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative announced a partnership that will make Houston an official “Welcoming City” committed to creating a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.  The partnership will launch a multi-sector strategic planning effort focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans.

Houston joins numerous municipal governments that have signed on as Welcoming Cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York City.  Welcoming Cities is an initiative of Welcoming America, a national nonprofit organization with expertise in local innovations that advance civic, economic and linguistic integration.

Immigrant Integration Strategic Plan

The Welcoming Houston initiative will bring together leaders from the nonprofit, business, education, faith and cultural sectors to develop a multi-sector strategic plan focused on improving opportunities and advancing integration for foreign-born residents.

“As a Welcoming City, Houston is committed to building an inclusive environment where all communities have the opportunity to contribute to our economy and vibrant civic, social and cultural fabric,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.  “We are the most diverse city in the nation.  With that distinction comes the responsibility of ensuring that we are also an inclusive and equitable city where everyone has fair access to jobs, education, essential services and a voice in local government.  This strategic plan will help guide us as we work toward that goal.”

The plan will set forth recommendations focused on economic mobility, access to services, education, language access, public safety and legal status.  Welcoming Houston partners will present the plan to the mayor in November as part of the city’s observance of Citizenship Month.

“This plan will continue to make Houston a welcoming place of opportunity for all,” said Angela Blanchard, President and CEO of Neighborhood Centers.  “Through this collaboration, we will ensure our city enhances our position as one of the most attractive destinations for immigrants looking for a place where they feel welcomed, they can work and they can build a future for themselves and their families.”

“This strategic planning process will only work if a wide array of stakeholders is engaged,” said Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, a local coalition representing many immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations.  “We are looking forward to working with members of the public and private sector to make recommendations on how Houston can be more welcoming to its incredibly rich and growing immigrant populations.”

The planning effort is supported by the Gateways for Growth Challenge, an initiative of Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America.  Houston is one of 20 communities nationwide selected to receive support for immigrant integration planning.

The strategic plan will be presented to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as part of Citizenship Month in November. Implementation of the recommendations will be the responsibility all of the involved stakeholders.

Immigrant Population Economic Impact

Current data on the impact of the foreign-born population in Texas and Houston, including tax contributions, spending power and role in key industries as leaders and job creators, supports the importance of building a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.

The initiative will be informed by a recent report published by NAE revealing that Houston’s foreign-born population has grown 17% from 2009 to 2014 – accounting for 34% of the overall population growth in the region. Foreign-born residents contributed $116.5 billion to the region’s GDP and held $31.8 billion in spending power in 2014. While the foreign-born make up one-quarter of the overall-population, they are 32% of the employed labor force and 42% of the self-employed labor force. Foreign-born residents in Houston are twice as likely to own their own businesses than their U.S.-born counterparts. Welcoming Cities demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the inclusion and long-term economic integration of newcomers.

The launch of Welcoming Houston also coincides with the Reason for Reform national campaign, which brings together state business, civic and cultural leaders to urge Congress to take action on immigration reform. A statewide report on the economic contributions of immigrants in Texas was released as part of the Reason for Reform campaign.

Further reading

New Americans in Houston: A Snapshot of the Demographic and Economic Contributions of Immigrants in the Houston Area (NAE Report)

The Contributions of New Americans in Texas (NAE Report)

Media Coverage

Houston moves to become ‘Welcoming City’ for immigrants (Houston Chronicle)

Report: Immigrants inject over $116 billion into Houston’s GDP (Houston Chronicle)

Houston Launches Effort to Welcome Immigrants, Refugees (ABC13)

Officials and community members meet to discuss immigration reform at the local level (Fox26)

City leaders launch Welcoming Houston initiative (Defender Network)

Houston Becomes an Official “Welcoming City” (Houston Public Media)

Our Welcoming City (Houston Chronicle editorial)