U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson said he understands the "sensitive and unique nature of detaining families" but continued to defend the practice.

As Latin Post reported, 136 congressional Democrats wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to end family detention. The House Democrats acknowledged that detention, even for a "brief period of time," would still have detrimental effects to mothers and children. They are also concerned with the detainment of immigrants with serious medical needs. According to the letter, detained immigrants have included a child with brain cancer, a mother with congenital heart disorder and a child who had not eaten solid foods for two months.

In a statement released on Wednesday morning, Johnson and ICE Director Sarah Saldaña restated their commitment to "continually" evaluate the detainment of families.

Must Read: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Defends Detention Program 

"I have reached the conclusion that we must make substantial changes in our detention practices with respect to families with children. In short, once a family has established eligibility for asylum or other relief under our laws, long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued," Johnson stated, adding additional reforms will occur.

According to the DHS secretary, Saldaña and her immigration enforcement team presented a plan to "offer release with an appropriate monetary bond or other condition of release to families at residential centers who are successful in stating a case of credible or reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries." Saldaña also established criteria for establishing such family bond amount levels, which varies on the detainee's status as either a flight risk or towards public safety.

Johnson's reforms also extended for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), another immigration-based agency within DHS, to conduct "credible fear and reasonable fear interviews." During the interviews, ICE will further investigate on accurate address and sponsor information for the detainees and learn information about immigration court hearing attendance.

Johnson said the detention centers will still be used for individuals who have not issued a claim for relief based on current U.S. laws. Johnson said he hopes Central American families would find safe and legal paths for migration, specifically for children. He noted the in-country refugee processing programs in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and encouraged families to utilize the program.

Johnson concluded, "Border security continues to be one of my top priorities as Secretary of Homeland Security. As I have said before, our borders are not open to illegal migration. I know also that we must enforce our immigration laws in a fair and humane manner, consistent with our values as Americans."

Johnson's statement comes as eight congressional Democrats have visited two immigrant detention facilities earlier this week. The immigration detention centers in question are the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center, which were visited on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Making the trip were Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Reps. Joaquin Castro and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and California's Judy Chu, Zoe Lofgren and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard.


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