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Aid groups say ICE stopped jailing immigrant families at two South Texas sites, but they're still open 

Immigrant-rights groups have long called for the closure for the private family detention center in Karnes City, south of San Antonio. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Immigrant-rights groups have long called for the closure for the private family detention center in Karnes City, south of San Antonio.
The government has stopped using two private prison facilities south of San Antonio for detaining immigrant families, instead turning them into temporary stop-offs where asylum seekers get medical checks, immigrant-aid groups said.

However, that transition by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn't go far to reverse the hardline immigration policies of the Trump administration, those groups argue.

The two sites, located in Karnes City and Dilley — each roughly an hour from San Antonio — are among 10 detention facilities that groups including San Antonio-based immigrant legal-aid group RAICES are asking the Biden administration to immediately close. President Joe Biden campaigned on promises to undo Trump immigration policies such as requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their cases are heard.

"Word has recently spread that ICE has emptied the family prisons and will now use them as 72-hour processing centers for families," said Andrea Meza, RAICES's director of family detention services, during a Thursday press conference calling for the closure. "This is nothing to celebrate. This is a continuation of harmful imprisonment of children and their families."

ICE officials did not respond to the Current's email inquiry on the changes at Karnes City and Dilley. However, the agency did provide a written statement to the Express-News about the facilities.

“Custody determinations are made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law and [Department of Homeland Security] policy,” the statement read. “Individuals can be released from custody based on the facts and circumstances of their cases and may be placed in alternatives to detention, including release on recognizance or formal monitoring programs.”

The Karnes City site, which has a capacity to hold 850 people is now nearly empty, Meza said. The Express-News reports that the population in the 2,400-bed Dilley center has dropped to 382, citing an ICE spokeswoman.

But Meza said RAICES is concerned that the for-profit facilities could fill up again. Both sites have been the subject of numerous complaints from human-rights groups about the lack of adequate nutrition and medical care and inmates' inability to get adequate legal representation.

RAICES regularly works with detainees at the Karnes City site and can find no basis for ICE's claim that it can process and release asylum seekers within 72 hours. She also noted that detention policies at the site — including who can be held there and for how long — change rapidly.

"As long as the family prisons remain open, we risk a return to long-term family detention and family separation," she said.

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