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Immigration Law

DHS Begins Releasing Refugee Moms, Kids From Family Prisons

"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 U.S. 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." - Franco Ordoñez, McClatchy DC, July 13, 2015.

"Today’s move by the Obama Administration, to release mothers and children who are found to have a positive fear finding, is only seen as a victory because of how bad the Administration has made life for refugees. A year ago we would never have accepted this minor shift in policy towards asylum seekers, nor would we have celebrated this move by the Administration. 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. We call for an immediate end to all family detention, and that the Administration take a serious step in ensuring protections for refugee families.

Acknowledging the growing consensus that it can not provide proper medical care for women and children detained in family internment camps, ICE announced on Monday evening that it would release all detained families who have been found to have fear of returning to their home countries. This announcement comes one week after it was discovered that 250 children had been injected with adult doses of Hepatitis A vaccines after they were awoken in the middle of the night, marched out to wait for hours outside the internment camp’s chapel, and denied information about what exactly was being injected into their children's bodies.

Families report that they must languish inside these internment camps for up to four to five weeks before receiving their initial fear interviews, far too long for any family to be subject to confinement. Any length of detention is too long. We will continue to advocate for the use of community-based alternatives to detention as the most appropriate, effective, and inexpensive program for refugee families." - Jonathan Ryan, Executive Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).

Full Statement Issued by DHS on July 13, 2015:

DHS has determined reconsideration is appropriate for custody decisions of arriving families who have established eligibility for asylum or other relief under our laws. Understanding the sensitive and unique nature of housing families, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is evaluating cases of residents housed at agency’s family residential centers. 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 and the individual has provided a verifiable residential address.

As a result, DHS will be releasing eligible family units after a review has been conducted. Such eligible individuals will generally be released on Orders of Recognizance or Orders of Supervision, subject to appropriate conditions. Additionally, each head of household will be considered for enrollment in Alternative to Detention Programs (ATD). Initial ATD enrollment will include Full Service – GPS monitoring. The field office monitoring the family member’s case will determine the appropriate ATD level(s) throughout the life cycle of the immigration court proceedings.

ICE has routinely utilized bonds and alternatives for a significant number of migrants in detention at the Family Residential Centers.

The numbers of bookouts from the various facilities will vary. The populations are expected to initially drop at these facilities. However, intake at these facilities is continuing. Particularly at STFRC, ICE will generally first bookout those eligible who have been in custody the longest.

This is in keeping with Secretary Johnson’s June 2015 decision to make substantial changes in our detention practices with respect to families with children. In short, once a family has established eligibility for asylum or other relief under our laws, long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued.

This follows ICE’s announcement in May 2015, and a first round of reforms which we have already begun to implement. They include:

  • First, we have begun reviewing the cases of any families detained beyond 90 days to evaluate whether detention during the pendency of their immigration case is still appropriate. Priority is being given to the review of the cases of families who have been in these residential centers the longest.

  • Second, we have discontinued invoking general deterrence as a factor in custody determinations in all cases involving families.

  • Third, we are appointing a Federal Advisory Committee of outside experts to advise Secretary Johnson and Director Saldaña concerning family residential centers.

  • Fourth, we are undertaking additional measures to ensure access to counsel, attorney-client meeting rooms, social workers, educational services, comprehensive medical care, and continuous monitoring of the overall conditions at these centers.

  • Additionally, ICE has determined criteria for establishing a family's bond amount at a level that is reasonable and realistic, taking into account ability to pay, while also encompassing risk of flight and public safety.

The Family Residential Center Population Counts as of 7/13/15 are:

Berks total population: 71

Karnes total population: 122

South Texas total population: 1,979