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Volume XI, Number 262


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ICE Says It Is Ending Use of Family Detention

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) disclosed in a Federal Court filing that it is ending the use of family detention and transitioning it to short-term facilities. These facilities will release families after no more than 72 hours.

ICE informed this declaration on the filings made in the Flores Settlement Agreement. The Flores lawsuit began in 1985 and settled in 1997. In the lawsuit, ICE’s court filing mentions that it is effectively ending family detention.

What Is a Family Detention Center?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains families who enter the United States from Central America in prison-like detention centers. The purpose of these detention centers is to deter others from making a similar journey.

Most of the families who are detained are asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have rights under both international and U.S. laws. There are many other alternatives to detention, such as a bond, the use of electronic ankle monitors, and parole-based supervision. These alternatives are more economical to the government than family detention.

The family detention policy commenced during the Obama administration in 2014. The Trump administration expanded the use of family detention, wherein the families were detained for a maximum period of 20 days, which is the maximum period of detention limit imposed by the Flores Settlement Agreement.

Current Standing of the Family Detention Centers

Originally there were three detention centers, two in Texas – Dilley and Karnes – and one in Pennsylvania, the Berks Family Residential Center. As of March 5, 2021, only thirteen families remained in detention, and seven had been scheduled for release that day. The remaining six families were scheduled to be released on March 7. Before their release, the families must be tested for COVID, and if tested positive, would have to stay in the facility for the quarantine period.

All the families in the Berks Family Residential Center were released as of February 26. ICE further disclosed that the Pennsylvania detention center will be closed, and the two Texas facilities will be used as short-term detention centers.

In Response to ICE’s Statement

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during an interview with NBC News that [ICE detention] “is not where a family belongs.”

Bridget Cambria, an immigration attorney with the People’s Justice Center, hailed ICE’s disclosure of the family detention but commented that the real victory would be after ICE closes all its family detention facilities. “The removal of parents and children from Berks is the result of years of advocacy, organizing and litigation all of which demonstrated that the detention of families is immoral and inhumane, that jailing children for any period of time is harmful and, of course, that our community absolutely rejects the idea of a babyjail in our backyard,” she said. People’s Justice Center has represented thousands of families detained at Berks since 2014.

Cambria added, “[h]owever, we do not welcome further incarceration of human beings in ICE custody in Berks in any form. And the fight of family detention is not over until [the Department of Homeland Security] cancels its contracts with existing family detention centers in Texas and closes Dilley and Karnes.” This move by the DHS seems to be on par with the Biden administration’s plan to drastically reduce the number of immigrant families in ICE detention.

©2021 Norris McLaughlin P.A., All Rights ReservedNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 82

About this Author

Raymond Lahoud Immigration Attorney Norris McLaughlin

Raymond G. Lahoud, Chair of the firm’s Immigration Law Practice, focuses exclusively on the area of immigration law and deportation defense for individuals, families, small to large domestic and multinational businesses and corporations, employers, international employees, investors, students, professors, researchers, skilled professionals, athletes, and entertainers, in every type of immigration or deportation defense matter—whether domestic or foreign.  While Ray’s immigration practice is global in reach, with service to individuals and organizations across the United States and beyond,...