President Joe Biden is said to be considering a major U-turn in his immigration policy as administration officials weigh reviving a Trump-era policy detaining families who cross the southern border illegally.
The president eliminated the practice when he took office, and actively campaigned against it saying ‘families belong together.’
But with Title 42 – a pandemic-era measure that allows authorities to promptly deport migrants – expiring in May, senior White House and Homeland Security officials are discussing the possibility of reinstating the program, the New York Times reports.
It would be just the president’s latest crackdown on illegal immigration as the number of migrants crossing the southern border reaches historic levels.
He is now being sued for a proposed rule that would make migrants ineligible for asylum in the U.S. if they did not first attempt to claim asylum in a country they passed through.
And critics say the president may lose even more favor amongst Democrats if he approves a new family detention policy ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
President Joe Biden is said to be considering reinstating a family detention program for migrants that cross the southern border illegally. He is pictured here on Sunday in Alabama
In 2020, Biden tweeted against the policy as he ran for office saying ‘Families belong together’
Biden campaigned against his predecessor’s use of family detention, which was also used under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for whom Biden served as vice president.
He even tweeted in June 2020, when a federal judge ordered the release of migrant children from detention centers due to the global pandemic: ‘Children should be released from ICE detention with their parents immediately.
‘This is pretty simple, and I can’t believe I have to say it: Families belong together.’
Almost immediately after taking office, he shut down all of the family detention centers in the United States as he sought a more humane approach to immigration.
Instead, the Biden administration implemented a practice of releasing families into the country temporarily and using ankle bracelets, traceable cellphones and other methods to keep track of them.
Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas has since considered ending family detention one of his key accomplishments.
And the Biden administration touted the end of the program in its 2023 fiscal year funding request, writing: ‘To ensure a more humane treatment of families, the administration is de-emphasizing family detention practices.’
But the number of illegal crossings surged in the years since Biden took office.
In 2021, the U.S. saw 1.7 million immigrants come into the country. In 2022, that number rose to more than 2 million.
The number of migrants caught illegally crossing the southern border has now reportedly hit on million in less than four years into the fiscal year. And with the end of Title 42 in sight, federal officials fear the situation may only get worse.
Now, the Times reports, the Biden administration is considering re-implementing the family detention program, with Department of Homeland Security officials already outlining what would need to be done to restart family detention by May 11, the date Title 42 expires.
A migrant caravan is pictured in the city of Tapachula in Mexico on March 4 as they prepared to enter the United States
Cesar Galeano, a Venezuelan migrant, is pictured walking into Mexico across the Paso del Norte international bridge after he failed to get asylum in the United States on February 3
A man kisses his family goodbye before they enter the United States on February 3
Angeldry Galeno, a Venezuelan migrant trying to apply for asylum in the United States using the CBP ONE application and whose husband travelled to another point of entry to the U.S. to attend his immigration appointment, changes her daughter’s clothes at a shelter near the border between Mexico and the United States on February 3
Under the proposal, current and former officials said, the Biden administration would follow a law that sets a 20-day limit for detaining families, rather than holding them for weeks or months on end like his predecessor did.
But the Biden administration would face a slew of logistical obstacles if it were to reinstate the family detention program, the Times reports.
Among those issues would be finding spaces to hold families with educational programs and playgrounds, as the former detention cites are now being used for single adults.
And Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the detention centers, is already facing a budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The plan also assumes that the government would be able to screen families for asylum quickly, either admitting or deporting them within a 20-day window when the average stay in an ICE detention center is 37 days.
Additionally, three of the officials who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity described concerns that family detention would encourage parents to send their children across the border alone instead of risking family detention.
Under current United States policy children who arrive in the country without a parent or legal guardian are not expelled, but rather placed in government custody and eventually released to live with a family member or another sponsor.
Critics say putting the families in a position of sending their children to the US without them is de facto family separation, a controversial measure used by the Trump administration under which 5,500 children were separated from their parents at the southern border.
And Leecia Welch, the lead lawyer in the case that led to the 1997 Flores settlement — which limited the amount of time children can spend in detention and established minimum standards for holding facilities — said: ‘Ending the inhumane practice of family detention has been one of the only positive immigration policy decisions of the Biden administration.
‘It’s heartbreaking to hear there could be a return to the Trump-era use of this practice.’
But administration officials rejected any comparison to Trump, telling the Times that Biden’s policies are focused on finding ways to decrease the number of illegal crossings and encourage migrants to seek legal pathways to citizenship.
The Department of Homeland Security also emphasized that no decision has been made, and claiming: ‘The administration will continue to prioritize safe, orderly and humane processing of migrants.’
Migrants from Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala sit on the ground after they were rescued from a locked tractor trailer that was left stranded on a highway in Veracruz, Mexico, on Sunday night
The proposal comes as at least 343 migrants, including 103 unaccompanied minors, bound for the United States were rescued from an abandoned tractor trailer in southeastern Mexican state of Veracruz.
The group was being smuggled on a freight container that was found on the side of the Cosamaloapan-La Tinaja highway Sunday night, the National Institute of Migration said in a statement.
Footage released by the agency showed the migrants being assisted from the back of the cargo truck.
Each migrant was wearing a colored bracelet as a form of identification system utilized by the smugglers.
The group consisted of 212 adults from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador. There were also 28 people who formed part of Guatemalan and El Salvador.
The National Institute of Migration said most of the unaccompanied migrant children are Guatemalan nationals.
The children were placed in the custody of the Veracruz state family services system while the rest of the migrants were expected to be processed per Mexico’s immigration guidelines.
More than 70 percent of Americans now say they are satisfied with the United States’ immigration policy.
A Gallup poll in February found that the satisfaction rate has fallen six percent in a year, going from 34 percent in 2022 to 28 percent in 2023.
The data represents the lowest number for the U.S. in over a decade.
Of the more than 60 percent of people who said they are dissatisfied with immigration, overall, 40 percent said they want immigration to decrease.
And while the results vary greatly by party, the poll found the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who want to see immigration curbed has risen on both sides.
Seventy-one percent of Republicans say immigration levels are too high, the highest number that has ever been recorded. That number is up two percent from 2022.
Among Democrats, 19 percent say immigration levels are too high. The newest data shows a steep eight percent jump.
Still, the Biden administration is being threatened with lawsuits from advocacy groups upset with a proposed new rule that would make migrants crossing the southern border ineligible for asylum in the U.S. if they did not first attempt to claim asylum in a country they passed through, such as Mexico.
The Biden administration argues their policy is different from the one under former President Trump because it allows migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba to apply to come to the U.S. directly if they have a U.S.-based sponsor.
‘This is not a Trump era-policy,’ Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on MSNBC on January 31. ‘This is not a transit ban. We have provided a lawful path for individuals to try to seek entry.’
But the ACLU slammed the tweaks in policy proposed by Biden as ‘mere window dressing.’
‘It would leave many of the most vulnerable asylum seekers in the same position as Trump’s bans did — unfairly denied critical, permanent protection for reasons that have nothing to do with their need for refuge,’ the civil rights group said in a statement.
And Keren Zwick, director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center, told NBC News that her group and others will work together again to fight any such rule.
She predicted that it would not survive their legal challenge.
‘If the proposed asylum ban rule does what we expect it to do — unlawfully deprive access to asylum based on manner of entry and/or transit route,’ Zwick said.
‘It would be invalid like the similar Trump administration rules that were found unlawful by federal courts.’