Baby Jails: The Fight to End the Incarceration of Refugee Children in America

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by Philip G. Schrag

University of California Press

1/21/2020, paperback

SKU: 9780520299313


"I worked in a trailer that ICE had set aside for conversations between the women and the attorneys. While we talked, their children, most of whom seemed to be between three and eight years old, played with a few toys on the floor. It was hard for me to get my head around the idea of a jail full of toddlers, but there they were."

For decades, advocates for refugee children and families have fought to end the U.S. government's practice of jailing children and families for months, or even years, until overburdened immigration courts could rule on their claims for asylum. Baby Jails is the history of that legal and political struggle. Philip G. Schrag, the director of Georgetown University's asylum law clinic, takes readers through thirty years of conflict over which refugee advocates resisted the detention of migrant children. The saga began during the Reagan administration when 15-year-old Jenny Lisette Flores languished in a Los Angeles motel that the government had turned into a makeshift jail by draining the swimming pool, barring the windows, and surrounding the building with barbed wire. What became known as the Flores Settlement Agreement was still at issue years later, when the Trump administration resorted to the forced separation of families after the courts would not allow long-term jailing of the children. Schrag provides recommendations for the reform of a system that has brought anguish and trauma to thousands of parents and children. Provocative and timely, Baby Jails exposes the ongoing struggle between the U.S. government and immigrant advocates over the duration and conditions of confinement of children who seek safety in America.


"In Baby Jails, Philip Schrag delivers a most comprehensive legislative, statutory and litigation history of the complex issues involving the incarceration of refugee children under the guise of controlling the flow of immigrants into the U.S. Schrag chronicles the plight of the children and how their lawyers have engaged in a continuing battle that has been ongoing since 1985. This is a must-read book for lawmakers, judges and anyone who wants to become better informed on this important issue. Schrag offers some very concrete and practical solutions that address the crisis at its roots."--Richard A. Boswell, Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings College of Law

"Both inspirational and heart-breaking, Baby Jails details more than three decades of advocacy by lawyers and nongovernmental organizations intent on protecting migrant children from the harsh, dehumanizing conditions that these children face in immigration detention. Schrag's ability to combine a clear explanation of complex legal issues with extensive behind-the-scenes reporting is unparalleled and will reward every reader."--Michele Pistone, Professor of Law and Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services, Villanova University

"A novel and thorough historical account of an issue of enormous importance. The book offers a window into the reach and limits of almost every possible advocacy strategy: grassroots organizing, lobbying, state and federal litigation, technological innovation, and working with the media."--Geoffrey Heeren, Associate Professor and Director, Immigration Clinic, Valparaiso University School of Law

"A powerful work that uses a rich combination of litigation documents, personal interviews, noncitizens' stories, and case law to trace the development of child and family detention in the United States."--Pooja R. Dadhania, Assistant Professor, California Western School of Law

"Immigrant children are still children--human children--our children. This is a timely, thoroughly researched study of the United States' ongoing struggle to ensure that migrant children in the custody of our federal government are protected and cared for in settings that are in the best interest of the child. It should be required reading and inspire calls to action right now."--Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President Emerita, Children's Defense Fund

About the author:

Philip G. Schrag is the Delaney Family Professor of Public Interest Law at Georgetown University and the author or coauthor of sixteen books, including Asylum Denied.