Washington – Federal officials have begun releasing hundreds of detained mothers and children from the nation’s family detention centers as part of plans to end long-term detention of migrant families.
Nearly two hundred detained parents and children were released over the weekend, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Lawyers and advocates report at least another hundred mothers and children were dropped off at bus stations in south Texas last week. Many of the mothers are being released with electronic monitoring ankle bracelets.
“Going forward, ICE will generally not detain mothers with children, absent a threat to public safety or national security, if they have received a positive finding for credible or reasonable fear,” ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said in a statement Monday night.
Federal officials say the action is part of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s plan to end controversial long-term detention of migrant mothers and children who have demonstrated they have reason to fear persecution if returned to their home countries.
The release comes as the administration has been under intense political and media scrutiny for locking up mothers and children while their asylum cases make their way through the court system. The administration currently holds more than 2,150 parents and children at three family detention centers in Berks County, Pa., and Karnes City and Dilley, Texas.
McClatchy has reported on allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment at the Berks County facility. On Friday, a deported 34-year-old mother and her 12-year-old daughter from Guatemala were brought back to the United States after a federal judge said they shouldn’t have been deported. A deported teen mom who attempted suicide at the Karnes facility told McClatchy about how she was taken from her young son and put into isolation after cutting her wrist.
Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said the move is a victory only because of how bad the Administration has made life for the detained mothers. He said children should never be “jailed for any period of time.”
“After nearly a year of advocating for children and mothers, who have fled immense violence, we are thrilled that the administration is finally accepting that their treatment of this population of people was wrong,” Ryan said. “We call for an immediate end to all family detention.”
Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Johnson said he’d concluded that locking up mothers and children, which can cost $342 per family a day, was not an effective use of his agency’s resources.
While the number of detained parents is expected to drop, ICE officials emphasized that they will continue to place families at the facilities. Those who are eligible will be released on orders that they report for future court hearings. They may also be given an electronic monitoring device.