In court filing, ICE says it is effectively ending use of family detention

WASHINGTON — In a federal court filing Friday night, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it is transitioning family detention centers to short-term facilities that will release families after no more than 72 hours.

ICE’s disclosure, made in the Flores lawsuit brought more than a decade ago on behalf of immigrant children, effectively suggests that the agency is ending family detention, a policy started under the Obama administration in 2014.

The Trump administration sought to expand family detention by holding families over 20 days, the limit imposed by the judge in the Flores case.

As of Friday, only 13 families remained in ICE detention, and seven had been scheduled for release that day. The remaining six families are scheduled to be released March 7 unless they test positive for Covid-19, in which case they will be required to remain for a quarantine period before they are released.

At the start of the Biden administration, ICE operated three family detention facilities: Two in Texas, located in Dilley and Karnes counties, and one in Pennsylvania. As of February 26, all families from the Pennsylvania facility have been released, according to the filing Friday.

The two Texas facilities will become short-term centers, while the Pennsylvania facility, Berks Family Residential Center, will no longer house families, the filing said.

In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said ICE detention is “not where a family belongs.”

Bridget Cambria, an immigration attorney whose firm has represented over 100 families detained at Berks since 2014, hailed ICE’s disclosure as a win for advocates, but said the agency’s policy of family detention wasn’t over until all the facilities are closed.

“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,” Cambria said.

She added: “However, 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.”

NBC News previously reported that the Biden administration had planned to drastically decrease the number of immigrant families in ICE detention, paving the way for an end to the policy of family detention.