U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are weighing a plan to phase out a family detention center in Texas, a move that could hinder the government’s ability to detain undocumented parents with their children.
Under the plan, ICE would instead use the facility at the Karnes County Residential Center to house single adults who are easier to deport, according to The Washington Post.
The existing facility at Karnes is one of two large family residential centers run by ICE in South Texas, and currently holds about 528 individuals, an ICE spokesperson told The Hill. Two officials familiar with the plan told the Post that the detainees would be ordered to appear before an immigration court and then be released into the U.S. interior.
Danielle Bennett, a spokeswoman for ICE, told The Hill the agency has no announcements to make at this time.
“Ensuring there are sufficient beds available to meet the current demand for detention space is crucial to the success of ICE’s overall mission. Accordingly, the agency is continually reviewing its detention requirements and exploring options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency’s custody,” she said.
Families are also held together at the South Texas Family Residential Center, which currently holds 1,456 individuals. The latest U.S. statistics indicate parents with children now make up over 60 percent of migrants who are detained, while around 36,000 family units crossed the border last month alone. A backlog has significantly delayed immigration court hearings.
Detained families are often released into the U.S. interior, sometimes with an ankle bracelet to track their movements, due to a 20-day limit on how long children can be held in immigration detention facilities.
The plan to phase out family detentions at Karnes comes after the Trump administration released a budget proposal that seeks to increase the number of family detention beds to 10,000.
One official told the Post that the Karnes plan is not final and may be temporary.
While the GEO Group, which owns and operates the Karnes facility, touts an array of services that are offered to the families, immigration groups have slammed the detention facilities as being virtual jails that offer improper care.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), an immigration advocacy group, filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Inspector General and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Wednesday on behalf of several Karnes detainees, saying some detentions violated the 20-day rule laid out in the Flores Settlement Act (FSA).
“RAICES has recently seen a disturbing trend in which DHS has detained children and their fathers at the Karnes Detention Center far longer than the 20-day period contemplated by the FSA,” the complaint says.