HOUSTON (AP) – Federal officials plan to end the long-term detention of hundreds of migrant families who are being held mainly at two large facilities in Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Wednesday.
Johnson said he has approved a plan that would offer appropriate and reasonable bond amounts for families at the centers who can present a credible case that they fear persecution in their home countries.
“I have reached the conclusion that we must make substantial changes in our detention practices with respect to families with children,” Johnson said in a statement. “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.”
It was not immediately known how quickly the new plan would be put in place. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarification.
After tens of thousands of migrant families, most from Central America, crossed the Rio Grande into Texas last summer, the government poured millions of dollars into two large detention centers meant to hold women and children. The centers are in Karnes City and Dilley, both located south of San Antonio. A third facility is located in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
At the end of last month, there were 1,834 individuals being held at the three facilities, according to immigration officials.
Johnson said the detention of families “will be short-term in most cases” but still allow enough time for officials to confirm addresses and sponsor information and educate families about their responsibilities, including attending future immigration court hearings.
But Johnson advocated for the continued use of family residential centers, saying the facilities “will allow for prompt removal of individuals who have not stated a claim for relief under our laws.”
Immigration attorneys and advocates said they were disappointed the federal government still believes the detention of immigrant families is necessary and expressed doubt that the announced changes would result in the release of many families.
“In general, anything that shows a breath of sanity in this process, that understands that detention is not something that is necessary and should not be long-term, is welcomed. But I’m extremely disappointed the secretary just doesn’t seem to get that family detention is wrong and is not necessary,” said Laura Lichter, a Denver immigration attorney who has represented families held at the centers in Karnes City and Dilley.