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Nov 26, 2021 | Documented and Rommel H. Ojeda

Family Detention Policy, Explained

Family detention is the practice of confining asylum seeker parents along with their children in detention facilities operated by USCIS.
-> This article is part of Documented’s Glossary. We want to make it easier to understand the U.S. immigration system. If you want to know more about different visa types and immigration terms, please check our library here.
-> To find useful information for immigrants, such as where to find free food or legal representation, check out our Master Resource Guide.

The Family Detention policy is the practice of confining asylum seeker parents along with their children in detention facilities operated by USCIS as “Family Residential Centers.” There are currently three locations: one is located in Pennsylvania and two are in Texas.

Families detained must include a non-U.S. citizen child or children under the age of eighteen accompanied by non-U.S. citizen parent(s) or legal guardian(s). 

The detainment of families became more common during the Obama years, as the administration dealt with the proliferation of families and children arriving in 2014’s “border crisis.” However, a year later in 2015 federal Judge Dolly Gee found the practice of detaining minors as a violation of the Flores Agreement, which had dictated the treatment of detained immigrant children in the U.S. since the Clinton administration. 

In 2018, family detention and separation resurfaced once again as the federal government under President Trump had been separating immigrant children from their families at the southern U.S. border, and the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy enumerated that it was done as a deterrent.

Trump eventually signed an executive order that directed the Department of Homeland Security to stop separating families. A week later, a U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring U.S. immigration authorities to reunite most separated families within 30 days and to reunite children younger than 5 within two weeks. Within days, a government court filing stated that it would keep families who had been arrested at the border detained together.

In March of 2021, Biden proposed converting some detention facilities to “processing facilities” which sought to speed up the process and release migrant families arriving at the border within 72 hours of U.S. custody.

Also read: How Immigration Bonds Work

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