Long-detained immigrant families could soon face deportation

HOUSTON (AP) — Lawyers working with immigrant families detained by the U.S. government for more than a year say they’re worried the families could be deported as soon as this week.

Six parents and six children could be placed on deportation flights as early as Wednesday, even though they continue to fight to win asylum, the lawyers said. The families say they were unfairly denied protections under several policies enacted by former President Donald Trump’s administration that courts later prohibited.

Hundreds of people have been deported in the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration, including a woman who was a witness to the 2019 massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. While a federal judge barred Biden from enforcing a 100-day moratorium on deporting most people in the U.S. without authorization, the judge’s order did not require the U.S. government to resume deportations as before. Legal experts say ICE generally has the discretion to delay deportation flights, keep immigrants detained, or release people on bond even if they have final deportation orders.

Since the judge’s order, ICE has deported people to at least five countries, according to the agency and advocates for people deported.

The families facing deportation have been held at the family detention center at Dilley, Texas, created by the former administration of President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president. Biden on Tuesday announced executive orders on family separation, border security and legal immigration intended to unwind Trump-era policies.

ICE said last week that 230 people were detained at the Dilley facility. The agency declined to confirm the pending deportations of the families.

In a letter sent to Department of Homeland Security officials Tuesday, immigration groups called on the Biden administration to “immediately halt the deportations of asylum seeking parents and their children.” It noted that new Homeland Security guidance that went into effect Monday — and was not affected by the federal judge’s moratorium bar — established the department’s enforcement priorities as “protecting national security, border security, and public safety.”

Many of the families at Dilley who have been detained for more than a year came within hours of being deported under the Trump administration before last-minute appeals delayed the process. Some have been taken to airports and brought back.

Shalyn Fluharty, director of the legal group Proyecto Dilley, which represents the families, noted that the parents and children facing deportation fought throughout the Trump administration, which enacted a series of restrictive immigration policies, including the separation of thousands of immigrant families.