WASHINGTON — Despite recent comments from President Joe Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas condemning migrant family detention and a recent court filing by the administration outlining plans to effectively end the practice, a senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement official says the agency will keep detaining families after all.
"ICE does maintain and continues to a system for family detention," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We are not ending family detention. We are not closing the family detention centers."
The official said there are still more than 100 families in the Karnes County Family Residential Center near San Antonio and over 350 in the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley.
In the filing late Friday, lawyers for the Biden administration said the facilities holding migrant families were "in the process of transitioning to an under-72 hour family facility." But the ICE official said that the agency will not impose a strict 72-hour limit on detaining families and may continue to hold families until the 20-day court mandated legal limit.
In an exclusive interview Thursday, Mayorkas was asked whether he agreed with a tweet Biden made during his campaign, which said, "Children should be released from ICE detention with their parents immediately" and whether he could commit to ending family detention.
Mayorkas did not address the questions directly, instead giving a one-sentence answer: "A detention center is not where a family belongs."
Instead of ending family detention, the senior ICE official said, the agency will be releasing some families more quickly and expanding the number of family detention beds in order to move families through its custody more quickly, including for deportation.
"It's part of a broader strategy where expulsion is what we're intending to do with most of the flow," the official said.
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"It is all to serve this goal of making it very clear that the border is not open, we are not inviting people to come, they should not come at this point. We are going to expel people as we can when it's possible under the law," the official added.
"The Biden administration promised to stop the detention of families by private prison companies," said Shalyn Fluharty, director of the legal group Proyecto Dilley, which provides pro-bono legal services to immigrant families in detention. "This is not the just and humane response these vulnerable families deserve."
Immigration advocates had applauded Friday's court filing, saying the closure of a family detention center in Berks County, Pennsylvania, was the result of their hard work advocating for immigrants' rights.
The official said Berks will likely be converted to house adult women traveling without children.