(CNN) –– The Immigration and Customs Control Service (ICE) plans to release some immigrant families who are in detention, according to two Homeland Security officials. The measure seeks to accommodate the arrival of migrants arrested at the US-Mexico border, according to sources.
In recent weeks, a growing number of migrants have been detained at the southern border of the United States, although most are still rejected under a public health order that was enacted in the term of former President Donald Trump. That order allows border officials to swiftly expel migrants, including those seeking asylum, to Mexico or their country of origin.
Families detained by ICE can generally be released while their cases progress through the immigration court system. When released, families often relocate to live with friends or family in the United States.
“Most families have loved ones or friends in the US who receive them,” said Bridget Cambria, an immigration attorney who represents detained families. “In unusual cases – and it is rare – in which a family does not have friends or relatives, we, at least in our cases, have been able to place them in community settings,” he added.
Amid ongoing litigation over public health order and mounting discussions, officials are bracing for the scenario that space is needed to care for and process families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in the near future.
The families are being detained at three centers run by ICE: Berks in Pennsylvania, South Texas (Dilley) and the Karnes County Family Residential Centers in Texas. Last year, organizations for the defense of immigrants they filed a lawsuit to request the immediate release of the detained families. This, under the coronavirus pandemic. The case is still ongoing.
As of February 9, there were 386 people detained in Dilley, 69 in Karnes and 34 in Berks, according to ICE. Figures may vary as families are deported or allowed to enter the United States. The agency did not immediately respond to comment on the expected release of the detained families.
It is not yet clear whether plans to release the families would be implemented in the three family detention centers. According to an official, the project to free the families in Dilley is imminent, but it depends on the weather.
Since the start of the pandemic, ICE has released more than 900 people who were deemed vulnerable to the virus. The decision was made after “evaluating his immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk and national security concerns,” according to the agency. ICE also reduced the entry of new detainees.
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attributes the increase in arrests at the US-Mexico border in part to the instability of the countries of origin, aggravated for the coronavirus pandemic. Also to perceptions of instantaneous changes in US immigration policies. In January, there were an average of about 3,000 arrests per day along the southern border, according to CBP.
The majority of those who have crossed the border since October 2020 are single adults, many of whom come from Mexico. In January, the US Border Patrol arrested more than 75,000 migrants at the southern border. Which represents an increase compared to the 71,000 in December, according to the most recent data. Of those, single adults accounted for about 62,000 arrests.
But the month-to-month increase stands out, given that there is generally a drop between December and January due to holidays. This was mentioned by a former National Security official. And it is especially concerning among families and unaccompanied migrant children.
Meanwhile, the White House has warned those considering coming to the US that they will largely reject them.
“This is not the time to come,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week. During his statement he cited the pandemic and ongoing efforts to launch a comprehensive process. «The vast majority of people will be rejected. Asylum processes at the border will not happen immediately, it will take time to implement them, “he added.
The Biden administration is beginning to conduct a series of reviews of the immigration system, including immigration detention.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas suggested in a call with immigrant advocates this week that the administration plans to take a different approach to detention, a source familiar with the call told CNN. Mayorkas discussed reviewing all forms of detention. Among them, alternatives such as ankle monitors, and reconsidering family detention altogether.
The ongoing reviews are in line with a decree signed on Biden’s first day in office. The measure overturned the 2017 Trump decree that made all undocumented immigrants a priority in ICE arrests.
As part of that effort, the agency is preparing to implement new guidelines that would reduce enforcement measures. And to be able to focus more specifically on immigrants who pose a risk to national security, border security or public safety, based on draft provisional guide obtained by CNN.
The Biden administration also acted swiftly to suspend deportations for a period of 100 days. Measure that was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Texas.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism