WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has released at least 200 Central Americans as part of changes to the policy of the indefinite detention of families who seek asylum.
An estimated 120,000 people from Central America, mostly women and children, crossed illegally into the United States last year. ICE began releasing the undocumented asylum seekers Friday as a move to end the Department of Homeland Security's policy of detaining families to discourage illegal immigration, according to USA Today.
"DHS has determined reconsideration is appropriate for custody decisions of arriving families who have established eligibility for asylum, or other relief under our laws. Understanding the sensitive and unique nature of housing families, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is evaluating cases of residents housed at the agency's family residential centers," DHS spokesman Richard Rocha said in a statement.
"Going forward, ICE will generally not detain mothers with children, absent a threat to public safety or national security, if they have received a positive finding for credible or reasonable fear and the individual has provided a verifiable residential address," Rocha added.
Families were detained indefinitely while their asylum requests were being processed and bonds were set at amounts between $5,000 to more than $20,000, which most detained families could not realistically pay.
There are currently 2,150 parents and children being held in three family detention centers in Berks County, Pa., and the Texas cities of Dilley and Karnes City.
"We remain strongly convinced that no family -- regardless of status -- should be housed in jail-like facilities for any length of time," Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois said Tuesday in a joint statement.
At least 100 undocumented families were dropped off at bus stations in south Texas last week, with many of the mothers who are being released wearing electronic monitoring ankle bracelets.
"It is a huge step forward that families, some held for months or even more than a year, are finally being released from detention," Eleanor Acer, director of refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in a statement. "At the same time, it's important to note that they are continuing to send new families into these detention centers."