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ICE Says It Is Ending Use of Family Detention

Immigration Family Detention Center in Sanctuary Counties

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) disclosed in a Federal Court filing that it is ending the use of family detention and transitioning it to short-term facilities. These facilities will release families after no more than 72 hours.

ICE presented this declaration in filings made in the Flores Settlement Agreement. The Flores lawsuit began in 1985 and settled in 1997. In the lawsuit, ICE’s court filing states that it is effectively ending family detention.

What Is a Family Detention Center?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains families who enter the United States from Central America in prison-like detention centers. The purpose of these detention centers is to deter others from making a similar journey.

Most of the families who are detained are asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have rights under both international and U.S. laws. There are many alternatives to detention, such as a bond, the use of electronic ankle monitors, and parole-based supervision. These alternatives are more economical to the government than family detention.

The family detention policy commenced during the Obama administration in 2014. The Trump administration expanded the use of family detention, wherein the families were detained for a maximum period of 20 days, which is the maximum period of detention limit imposed by the Flores Settlement Agreement.

Current Standing of the Family Detention Centers

Originally there were three detention centers, two in Texas – Dilley and Karnes – and one in Pennsylvania, the Berks Family Residential Center. As of March 5, 2021, only thirteen families remained in detention, and seven of which were scheduled for release that day. The remaining six families were scheduled to be released on March 7. Before their release, the families must be tested for COVID, and if positive, would have to stay in the facility for the quarantine period.

All the families in the Berks Family Residential Center were released as of February 26. ICE further disclosed that the Pennsylvania detention center will be closed, and the two Texas facilities will be used as short-term detention centers.

In Response to ICE’s Statement

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during an interview with NBC News that [ICE detention] “is not where a family belongs.”

Bridget Cambria, an immigration attorney with the People’s Justice Center, hailed ICE’s disclosure of the family detention but commented that the real victory would be after ICE closes all its family detention facilities. “The removal of parents and children from Berks is the result of years of advocacy, organizing and litigation all of which demonstrated that the detention of families is immoral and inhumane, that jailing children for any period of time is harmful and, of course, that our community absolutely rejects the idea of a babyjail in our backyard,” she said. People’s Justice Center has represented thousands of families detained at Berks since 2014.

Cambria added, “[h]owever, we do not welcome further incarceration of human beings in ICE custody in Berks in any form. And the fight of family detention is not over until [the Department of Homeland Security] cancels its contracts with existing family detention centers in Texas and closes Dilley and Karnes.” This move by the DHS seems to be on par with the Biden administration’s plan to drastically reduce the number of immigrant families in ICE detention.

To learn more about this blog post or if you have any other immigration concerns, please feel free to contact me at or (484) 544-0022.