U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will soon resume detaining migrant families at a facility outside of San Antonio, clearing the way for the agency to detain hundreds of additional parents and children.
The Trump administration had stopped holding families at the Karnes County Residential Center in the spring, saying it was unable to transport migrants there because of a record influx of families at the border.
But after a decline in apprehensions in the summer, officials said in a statement Saturday that they will revert Karnes “back to a family residential center in the near future.”
Officials said earlier that they expected the facility to return to exclusively detaining families after a few months.
Karnes has most recently been used to hold about 700 adult women, and intake has been temporarily suspended, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said in the statement.
Current detainees at Karnes can expect to be transferred to other facilities, he said.
Karnes can house up to 830 parents and children, according to Geo Group, the private contractor that runs the facility.
ICE is housing families at two other facilities, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and Dilley, Texas. Karnes is the second-largest family center.
Adding Karnes back restores ICE’s total capacity to detain families to more than 3,000 people, though most recently its family detention centers were well below capacity.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a nonprofit organization based in Texas, said female detainees were told they would be transferred to other facilities in a few days.
It called for ICE to shut down these and other facilities and said women have complained of poor medical care at Karnes.
“ICE is about to transfer women from Karnes Detention Center to Louisiana & other detention centers across the country to make room for family detention,” the nonprofit tweeted Friday.
Migrant families have overwhelmed the U.S.-Mexico border over the past year, seeking refuge from violence and poverty, mainly in Central America. The White House claims they are traveling in families because limited detention means they are likely to be released in the United States, and most are rarely deported.
In recent months, the Trump administration has intensified enforcement and pressured Mexico to detain more families traveling north and host thousands awaiting their asylum hearings.
The Trump administration is also attempting to expand the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, restrict asylum and broker deals with Central American nations to absorb mass migration.
Last month, officials took steps to terminate a federal court settlement restricting how long U.S. officials can detain migrant children with their parents. Officials want to replace the settlement with a rule that could expand family detention and dramatically increase the time children spend in custody.
If the administration’s bid is successful, officials would have the legal authority to hold families longer. Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, has said his goal is to detain families for less than two months to complete their immigration cases, and release or deport them together.
Family apprehensions at the southern border declined over the summer, from 70% of all migrants taken into custody in July to 55% in August. Arrests typically drop during the scorching summer months, but crossings remain higher than during past years, irritating a president who campaigned on a promise to drive down the numbers.
Overall apprehensions are expected to approach 1 million this fiscal year, a threshold unseen since the George W. Bush administration.