Immigrant rights advocates are responding to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson's latest reforms on immigrant detention.

Johnson announced "substantial changes" for his department's detention polices. Johnson said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will "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." ICE Director Sarah 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.

Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Immigrants' Rights Project, said Johnson's announcement is "a step in the right direction," but more can be done.

"The U.S. government should not be locking up children and families in immigration jails, period. For an entire year, the government has violated the basic rights of mothers and children to apply for asylum, by locking them up without cause and at great expense, by prejudging their cases without fairly applying the law to individual circumstances, and by putting up barriers to legal counsel, when the stakes are life or death," added Wang.

She stated the DHS' actions came because lawsuits and growing public pressure by human rights organizations and Congress.

One member of Congress who has pressed the DHS is Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. He, and seven fellow House Democrats, visited two immigrant detention centers on Monday and Tuesday in Texas.

"To a person, the eight Members who traveled to Texas this week want the detention of moms and kids to end and be replaced with other ways to monitor people waiting for their asylum cases to be heard," said Gutierrez in a statement. "[Johnson] is clearly not in a position to say he will end the practice of family detention and keeping kids locked up, but the dialogue is positive and productive."

Gutierrez said Johnson's "substantial changes" are improvements, are welcomed and shows progress has been made. He noted that lawmakers do want to work with Johnson for a greater goal.

"After seeing so many children in jail-like conditions, we will continue to work to make sure children and mothers like the ones we met this week are not kept in detention the way they are now," added Gutierrez.

Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FAIR) spokesperson Kica Matos also said Johnson's announcement is a first step in recognizing the problems in the detention facilities. Matos stated the changes are only "small progress" to changing the U.S.'s immigration practices.

"Changing the name of detention centers to 'residential centers' does not change the reality that these are places where families are inhumanely detained," said Matos. "We hope these proposed changes will ultimately result in ending the unjust and wasteful practice of detaining women and children altogether."


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