U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will soon close a family case management program for asylum-seekers that, as of April 19, housed more than 630 families. According to Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokesperson, the program caters to “special populations, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, [and] families with very young children.” It is currently considered the least-restrictive alternative for asylum-seekers who come to the U.S. illegally. The more common scenario is for immigrants and refugees to be held in prison-like detention centers as they wait for their cases to be heard in the immigration court system.
In 2014, the Obama administration chose to expand the number of detention facilities in response to the Central American Refugee Crisis, which prompted tens of thousands of women and children to seek asylum in the U.S. These large-scale detention rates continue today, with around 400,000 immigrants being held in detention facilities each year—around 80 times the amount held in 1994.
Many humans rights groups have called for an end to detention centers altogether, arguing that long-term confinement can have severe psychological effects on detainees. The independent advocacy group Human Rights First has implored the U.S. government to consider alternative systems that do not “exacerbate the trauma asylum seekers face and impede access to legal counsel.” With this in mind, a federal judge ruled in 2015 that detention centers without child-care facilities could not detain children for more than 20 days—a verdict that has largely been ignored by ICE. In some cases, women and children have spent up to 16 months in detention.