Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday announced it would start reopening its detention centers to visitors for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
The decision comes long after federal prisons began allowing friends and family members to visit inmates again in October 2020.
An advocacy group, Freedom for Immigrants, said that ICE has been under pressure for months from outside groups to ease its visitation restrictions.
Currently, there are about 19,500 immigrants detained in ICE facilities while they await deportation. Some stay very briefly and are released while they wait for their immigration court proceedings.
The agency said that reopening the centers for social visits will happen in phases “and remains fluid, considering local conditions and updates to C.D.C. guidance.”
“Teams will continue to closely monitor conditions and alter phases based on new information as needed. This is how we will continue to deliver high-quality, evidence-based care to detained individuals in a dignified, respectful manner,” the executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations at ICE, Corey A. Price, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Blocking social visits has also precluded members of advocacy groups for detainees from visiting facilities to look for potential human rights abuses.
“Immigration detention is inherently abusive and inhumane, and we will continue to work to abolish this system in its entirety,” Andrea Carcamo, the policy director of one such group, Freedom for Immigrants, said in a statement.
In its news release, Freedom for Immigrants included a reaction to the reopening decision from an immigrant who has been detained at an ICE facility in McFarland, Calif., since July. The inmate, Fidel Garcia, said, “The realization that I will be able to hug my daughter brings me so much joy.”