Houston US immigration authorities will no longer use a small detention center in Pennsylvania to hold asylum-seekers who are parents and children, as part of a broader change ordered by President Joe Biden’s administration to reduce incarceration for families.
In a document filed in court on Friday, the federal government said it had released all families who were in the 96-bed Birks County Detention Center in Lessport, Pennsylvania. The government stated that the center will now be used by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain adults.
Families will continue to be held in larger detention centers in Cairns City and Dili, Texas, but the government intends to hold people in those places for three days or less, according to the court transcript.
Lawyers working with the families of detained immigrants praised the news and credited the Biden administration for announcing the change. However, they note that even short periods of detention may be harmful to children.
“A family detention will never fully end until the facility is closed and contracts with ICE are completed,” said Bridget Cambria, executive director of Aldea – The People’s Justice Center, Executive Director of Legal Defense Group.
The three family detention centers opened their doors while Biden was vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration. During his campaign for the presidency, Biden promised that he would release the bound families.
The Biden administration has already released several asylum seekers’ families who have been held for a year or more in Texas and who, in some cases, were only hours away from being deported. These families will continue to pursue their cases and will be subject to immigration and customs office monitoring.
In the early days of his presidency, Biden faced an increase in the number of families and unaccompanied children crossing the US-Mexico border, resulting in space constraints in border patrol cells and in long-term children’s facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. In the case of border guards, hundreds of children have been detained for more than 72 hours in recent weeks, which is the general limit set out in agency standards.
Biden has suspended the practice initiated by former President Donald Trump to expel unaccompanied immigrant children based on the Public Health Authority. Thousands of children have been expelled to their countries of origin without the opportunity to apply for asylum or other forms of protection provided for in federal law.
The Biden administration continues to deport immigrant and adult families.