ICE’s Family Directive a Little Watery (Get It?!)

As we reported last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a directive in late August that, in a nutshell, instructs its field offices to factor the parental status of people in their custody when it comes to decisions about things like whether to confine them, and where.

The directive specifically instructs them to be mindful of parents involved with child welfare proceedings, who may need to maintain regular visitation or attend hearings as part of the plans made by family courts.

In our opinion section, Kevin Lindsey of the youth advocacy group First Focus called it a good first step in addressing the family needs of people involved in immigration proceedings.

Youth Services Insider has read the directive, and would also submit that parties interested in the child welfare-related instructions will want to keep a pretty sharp eye on fidelity to these instructions.

We say that not out of any skepticism about the morals of ICE field directors; we’re just guessing that this isn’t the only instructions they’ve received from on high about priority and procedure. And this directive includes quite a few loopholes that could pretty easily nullify its impact. To wit:


“Subject to detention space availability,” field offices will place alien parents who are detained “as close as practicable to the alien’s child…and/or to the location of the alien’s family court or child welfare proceedings.”

Court Attendance

When a detained parent is required to participate in a family court proceeding, and can produce evidence of that, the field office has to transport them to the proceeding as long as:

-the proceedings are located “within a reasonable driving distance of the detention facility”

-Transporting the detainee “would not be unduly burdensome on Field Office operations.”

If the ICE office cannot or will not transport the detained parent, it “should work” to find an alternative way for him to participate in the proceeding, like video or standard teleconferencing “if it is technologically feasible.”

Family Visitation

In cases where a family court has required parent-child visitation as part of a family’s plan, ICE offices should facilitate visits “to the extent practicable.”

If it’s not practicable, field offices can permit visitation via video- or tele-conferencing “if it is technologically feasible.”

Planning for Deportation

If a parent is set for deportation, ICE offices are instructed to accommodate, “to the extent practicable,” efforts by the parent to make provisions for their children.

Really, the only mandates within the directive are that offices put somebody in charge of parent rights, and that the very first place of detention has to be close to home. The rest of the directive is couched with “if it’s feasible” caveats that morph mandate into suggestion.

Does that make the directive worthless? Not at all. But ICE stopped short of telling its offices that they had to keep detainee parents close to home, that they had to help them make family court dates, and help them make plans for children in the event of deportation. Which means that it falls to regional ICE leadership to live up to the spirit of this directive.

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle editor-in-chief John Kelly

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1214 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at