In the past twelve months, family detention has dramatically increased, as record numbers of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children have come across the U.S. border. Starting with last summer’s inflow of unaccompanied undocumented minors, immigrant rights groups like the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council and others have been pressing the Obama Administration to allow arriving immigrants the opportunity to present their claims in immigration court and to reduce the government’s reliance on large-scale detention.
Currently, more than 1,000 mothers and children are being held in three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania. Social workers and advocates for immigrant families have warned of the harm done by such detention, especially as it affects women and children fleeing domestic trauma and abuse. Experts say that the detainees’ fears of being returned to their home countries and the uncertainty surrounding their detention have triggered a range of physical and emotional ailments.
In the face of growing pressure to end or limit large-scale detention, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released new standards for immigrant family detention centers. In the first set of changes, issued in May 2015, ICE announced new standards for reviewing individual family immigration cases after the first 90 days of detention and every 60 days thereafter to ensure that the detention is appropriate. In a second round of reforms, ICE announced plans to identify additional families for release on a reasonable monetary bond, upon a showing of credible or reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries.
In spite of these changes, the U.S. government is still moving ahead with plans to open two new detention centers in Texas, including one which would hold 2,400 people, making it the largest such center in the United States. But advocates say that the oversight measures offered by ICE do not go far enough and are continuing to press for limits on the detention of small children and families for immigration violations.