Washington, DC - Statement by Secretary Jeh C. Johnson on Reforms to Family Residential Centers:
Last summer, this Department took a number of steps to respond to an unprecedented influx in illegal migration from Central America. Many of those apprehended at the border were adults who brought their children with them. In response to this influx, we increased our family residential center capacity. We recognize, however, the special concerns involved in detaining families with children. And over the past several months, we have implemented significant reforms to how we operate our family residential centers. We are also engaging with stakeholders to listen and discuss their concerns, and will continue to make additional improvements when appropriate. We have established a Federal Advisory Committee with experts in mental health, family and youth services, and other areas to advise on our policies going forward.
With these reforms, the detention of families is becoming short-term in most cases. We are transitioning our family residential center facilities into processing centers where individuals can be interviewed and screened rather than detained for a prolonged period of time. Families who establish a credible or reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries are now being released after asserting their claim, under conditions designed to ensure they will appear in immigration court for their case. The Department will also continue to expedite, to the greatest extent possible, the removal of those who are not eligible for relief under our laws. We take seriously our obligation to secure our borders and will continue our aggressive enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.
Finally, we are taking steps to ensure compliance with the July 24 and August 21 orders issued by the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, which hold that a 1997 settlement agreement requires us to implement new detention policies. We disagree with portions of the legal reasoning in the decision and have filed a notice of appeal preserving our ability to challenge those portions. But we remain committed to reforming our family residential center policies, as we have been doing for the past several months.