Obama officials revise immigrant detention policy

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Under fierce pressure from Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it would take steps to minimize the controversial practice of detaining immigrant women and children who cross the southern border.

But frustrated Democrats are already saying the administration plan doesn’t go far enough.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced a series of measures intended to limit how long immigrant women and children are held in custody.

“I have reached the conclusion that we must make substantial changes in our detention practices with respect to families with children,” Johnson said Wednesday. Once a family shows they are eligible for asylum, Johnson said detaining them for the long term is “an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued.”

Johnson added: “In substance – the detention of families will be short-term in most cases.”

Key House Democrats, who had assembled for a press conference Wednesday to talk about their visit to two immigrant detention facilities in Texas earlier this week, were quick to call DHS announcement insufficient. They and immigration advocates say the immigrant detention centers should be shut down.

“Secretary Johnson’s statement this morning and later today will be a very strong step in the right direction. But it is a step,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “Let me reiterate that I believe the best solution, the right one, is to close these centers.”

Other Democrats weren’t as polite. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the top Democrat on the House panel overseeing immigration, argued that regardless of the Obama administration’s new policies, immigrants would still be held in custody in jail-like conditions when they haven’t committed crimes.

“In the secretary’s statement, he posed two alternatives: Jail, or you go to the bus stop and disappear,” she said. “The secretary’s a smart guy. He knows those are not the two alternatives.”

The issue of detaining immigrants, particularly women and children, is one of the rare components of immigration policy that has opened a rift between the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

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