Immigrant Families Released Faster from Detention Centers

Seth Robbins, AP, July 14, 2015

Mothers with children are being released from Texas immigrant detention centers more quickly in the weeks since the nation’s top immigration official announced policy changes, with far more being given ankle-monitoring bracelets in lieu of paying bonds, according to immigration attorneys.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Richard Rocha wouldn’t confirm the uptick Tuesday or provide specific numbers of people being released. But he said that “going forward, ICE will generally not detain mothers with children” with a credible fear of persecution in their home countries, so long they can provide an address and are not deemed a national security or flight risk.

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ICE opened two large detention centers south of San Antonio after tens of thousands of migrant families, mostly from Central America, crossed the Rio Grande last summer. Amid political pressure–and a lawsuit that could potentially close the facilities–Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced last month that detention would be “short term” for families seeking asylum.

Johnson promised substantial changes, including “reasonable and realistic” bonds, and quick release for families with credible asylum claims.

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Linda Brandmiller, an immigration attorney who has represented several women held at the 500-bed immigrant facility in Karnes City, said ankle-monitoring bracelets are a fair alternative in some cases. But she said there should be sound criteria for using them.

“Everybody is not a natural flight risk,” she said. “Everybody shouldn’t need an ankle bracelet.”

ICE would say only that it uses ankle bracelets and other alternatives to detention on a case-by-case basis.

ICE reported that the Karnes City facility was housing 122 people as of Tuesday, while the Dilley facility was housing about 2,000. The third family holding facility is in Pennsylvania and much smaller.

The agency said the number of women and children at the facilities is expected to drop in the coming weeks, but the centers will remain open to process new immigrants who have crossed illegally into the U.S. or to hold those who don’t meet criteria to petition for asylum.

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