A majority of adults caught crossing the border with children fail to check in with immigration officials after being released, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Some 70% of families since May have missed the required deadline, an ICE spokeswoman told the Associated Press on Thursday. The new numbers throw fuel on a raging debate over whether to detain families caught crossing the Mexican border, thousands of whom arrived from Central America during a short period this past summer. More than 66,000 families have been caught at the Southern border this year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In response to the wave of Central American children and families, which overwhelmed existing detention centers, ICE announced plans to construct new family holding facilities for migrants.
Human rights groups and immigration advocates have argued that conditions at such centers are poor and that the families should be freed pending a final decision as to whether they’ll be deported. Packed immigration courts can take months or longer to render a verdict and many of the unaccompanied minors found at the border have been released in the custody of family members after initially being detained.
But the latest figures suggest ICE has reason to be concerned that alternative measures may not be effective. The number of Central Americans crossing the border has plummeted in recent weeks after peaking around June. While the reasons for the drop are still unclear, it’s possible that the increased use of detention and efforts by the Obama administration to speed up removals may have had an effect.