For approximately a quarter of the women and children held at the Karnes City and Dilley detention centers in Texas, early December brought happy holiday news from Immigration and Customs Enforcement: they were being released.
My San Antonio reports that the Interfaith Welcome Coalition was joined by a convent and a church in welcoming the 460 detainees released. These institutions worked to provide shelter and other services to a growing crowd of women and children.
These detention centers have been controversial since their inception in 2014, when they were opened as facilities to detain the families who came to the United States in search of safety from turmoil in Central America. These families surrendered to Border Patrol at the border, and at the time of their release, some had not undergone the credible fear interviews that launch the process for seeking asylum.
ICE claims that this sizeable release was part of the agency’s normal procedures. However, the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services has argued that this decision resulted from a ruling barring Karnes City and Dilley detention centers from being licensed as childcare facilities.
Currently, U.S. law provides a broad classification for who qualifies as a child for immigration purposes. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines a child as anyone under the age of 21 who is unmarried. This expanded definition was established in 2002 with the advent of the Child Status Protection Act. This legislation was designed to protect children of asylum seekers, refugees and other humanitarian program immigrants, as well as employment- and family-based immigrants.
The CSPA resulted from a significant backlog in the American immigration system. Excessive processing times meant that many children petitioning for visas aged out—that is, turned 21—before they received permanent residence.