Hoping to prevent the detention of migrant families for weeks or months at a time, the Biden administration plans to release parents and children within 72 hours of their arrival in the United States, a new policy that already is being carried out along the Texas border, reports the New York Times. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will now hold families only for the time required to schedule court dates, conduct COVID-19 tests and arrange for them to be transferred to shelters, where volunteers and aid workers help schedule their travel to join relatives already in the country. Roughly 100 families per day would be processed and released from two existing family residential centers in Texas. Those who test positive for the coronavirus would remain in isolation at a border facility for 10 days. As of Thursday, several dozen migrants traveling as families were being held at a facility in Karnes City, Texas, and more than 300 at another, in Dilley, Texas.
The two detention centers have a combined capacity of 3,200. Erica Schommer, a law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, called the new 72-hour policy a “positive” sign but cautioned that any detentions of children raised concerns because of research showing that children in such conditions suffered long-term damage. By law, the government cannot keep migrant children in holding facilities at the border for more than 72 hours; it must either transfer them to a shelter or release them, and the government is mostly able to comply. The new policy pertains mainly to the detention centers where many of them are sent next; under the Flores agreement, the government must not detain children in any facility for more than 20 days, and that deadline has often been missed in the past. The release of those families to bus stations in communities struggling with the pandemic has prompted a backlash from conservatives and local leaders, who complain that some of the migrants recently arriving in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus.