Immigrant families released faster from detention

Spike seen in mothers given ankle-monitoring bracelets

By Seth Robbins
Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Mothers with children are being released from Texas immigrant detention centers more quickly in the weeks since the top U.S. 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 as they can provide an address and are not deemed a national security or flight risk.

"This is a decision they should have made a long time ago," said Jonathan Ryan, director of RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, which offers legal help to detainees.

Ryan said his volunteers have seen an increase in the number of women and children at the downtown San Antonio bus station who've been released from two South Texas facilities where immigrants are detained after crossing illegally into the U.S. The volunteers also noticed an increase in the number of families needing a place to stay overnight and other assistance.

"We've seen ICE start to implement additional strategies for releasing people," added Brian Hoffman, who is leading a volunteer lawyers project for the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other groups at the nation's largest family detention center in Dilley, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio .

"But there are people who have been here longer than a month," he said.

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. But 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.

About a half dozen mothers with their children at the bus station were wearing ankle bracelets, their jeans barely concealing the chunky technology. They said a total of about 10 women had been released that day with the devices.

Ryan said there's been a significant spike in the number of mothers being given ankle-monitoring bracelets, though he and other immigrant advocates say there is inconsistency in how the devices are being doled out.

Linda Brandmiller, an immigration attorney who has represented several women held at the 500-bed immigrant holding 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 only say 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.

RAICES reported that in the week after Johnson's announcement, nearly 70 women and children were released from the Karnes City facility. Ryan said that's an increase from previous weeks, and his organization expects about 30 families to be released each day in the coming weeks.

Published: Thu, Jul 16, 2015

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