Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released 200 Central Americans, mostly women and children, from family-detention centers since last Friday, reports the Arizona Republic. The move is part of a sweeping series of changes the agency has made to when and for how long families seeking asylum are being detained. The releases follow a long campaign by human-rights groups, since last year’s spike in migration from Central America, to end the Department of Homeland Security’s policy of detaining families as a way to discourage migration.
The number of women and children crossing the border from Central America has dropped sharply this year, after about 120,000 crossed illegally in fiscal year 2014. Meanwhile, a new federal audit suggested that Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers may have illegally deported thousands of unaccompanied Mexican children under 14 years old over the past five years. Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First said the new report by the Government Accountability Office that border agents aren’t properly screening children before deporting them was “disturbing, but not surprising, given a long history of deficiencies in screening” by CBP. Acer and others from immigrant-rights groups welcomed the releases of the mothers and children, but they called for closing the family-detention centers entirely.