DHS Announces Positive Changes, But Family Detention Policy Continues

Posted on: June 24th, 2015
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The Obama Administration’s abhorrent family detention policy has been the subject of scathing criticism for months and the White House has finally reacted with an announcement today that it is greatly scaling back its use of the controversial practice. In case you’re not familiar with the policy, ever since last summer when tens of thousands of mothers and children fled violence in Central America, ICE has been jailing these families in remote facilities mostly near the US border with Mexico.

Volunteer lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (including my law partner Lynn Susser) have been traveling to these locations to provide representation to the detainees and have been documenting the conditions as well as trying to help  people correctly file refugee and other immigration claims. Last week, White House official Cecilia Muñoz who is the President’s chief immigration adviser, addressed the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Muñoz faced a number of protesters upset over the detention policies. She largely was unapologetic and suggested that the many of the advocacy groups and members of Congress complain loudly without offering solutions.

The voices of protest appear to be making a difference and today DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the following changes:

1. Those who are successful in stating a case of credible or reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries will be offered an “appropriate” monetary bond or other condition of release.

2. The bonds will be set at rates that are “reasonable and realistic”

3. Credible fear screenings will be conducted withing a reasonable time frame.

4. Detention of families will be short-term in most cases and during that time, DHS will confirm accurate address and sponsor information so that ICE can monitor immigration compliance.

5. While detained, families will receive education about their rights and responsibilities, including attending immigration court hearings.

6. Family detention centers will still be used for the prompt removal of individuals who have not stated a claim for relief under our laws.

These are a step in the right direction, this does not mean the end of family detention. And if a person has passed a credible fear screening, this means they have a decent asylum claim so they should not have to pay a bond at all.  That detention will be used less is obviously good news. But families being jailed is NOT an acceptable policy for a country that purports to respect human rights.