U.S. immigration authorities overhauling family detention

Federal immigration authorities will no longer cite deterrence as a factor in deciding whether to detain immigrant families caught illegally crossing the U.S. border, the Obama administration announced late Wednesday.

That development is among several changes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement outlined in a news release about the way it is detaining parents and children without legal status. The government is now defending itself against several federal lawsuits over the issue.

Federal immigration authorities said they will also seek to improve living conditions and access to attorneys in its three family detention centers, which are located in Texas and Pennsylvania. Further, ICE said it would start reviewing the cases of families detained beyond 90 days to determine whether they should remain in custody.

ICE Director Sarah Saldaña said “we understand the unique and sensitive nature of detaining families and we are committed to maintaining the optimal level of care. The measures ICE is announcing reaffirm that understanding and our commitment to ensuring all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure, and humane manner.”

Leslie Holman, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, on Thursday called ICE’s announcement “almost meaningless.”

“After months of detailing the many failures of the family detention apparatus by AILA and other stakeholders, after months of ICE ignoring those failures and neglecting to act, the announcement is, at its core, almost meaningless,” she said. “Yes, better oversight of operations and greater access for desperately needed pro bono legal services are long overdue. However, the rest of this announcement is lipstick on a pig.”

Also this week, 188 civil and immigrant rights groups and other organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to end family detention. Georgia Detention Watch and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights included their names on the letter.

“We urge you to undo the harsh family detention policies set in place in summer 2014 and implement a more just and humane approach,” their letter says. “Family detention should not be your legacy. Now is the time to end it once and for all.”