New federal data released today by an advocacy group reveals that in the last four years, at least 1,366 kids were locked up in adult immigration detention centers for more than three days. The majority were held in the jails for more than a week and 15 for more than six months. Federal rules require that minors be released from the facilities in less than three days.
The data, obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center, a Chicago-based non-profit, comes as Congress considers a number of reforms to the immigration detention system as part of the Senate's immigration reform bill. The detention of minors is presumed already to be unlawful becuse of a 1997 legal settlement and the immigation agency's own protocols.
Many of the young immigrants in the facilities were held in privately operated facilities or county jails that have contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More than 900 of those detained were 17-years-old and an additional 400 were 15 or 16 years old. Two of the detained children were under the age of ten.
Currently, ICE us supposed to send children deemed to be unaccompanied, which means they have no legal guardian who can take them, to shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. ORR often places the children in contracted foster care. Children who are not unaccompanied, either because they were detained along with family or have clearly identified relatives, remain in ICE custody. They are supposed to be released or placed in facilities appropriate for kids. As the LA Times reports, 3,800 immigrant minors are now held in juvenile detention facilities around the country.
But the new data reveals that in at least 1,366 cases, ICE has not followed its own rules and has locked minors in adult facilities.