In reversal, Biden weighs detaining migrant families

Mar 7, 2023, 7:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is considering detaining migrant families who cross into the U.S. illegally as it prepares to end COVID-19 restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plans. That would be a major reversal after officials in late 2021 stopped holding families in detention facilities.

Homeland Security officials are working through how to manage an expected increase of migrants at the border once the COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place since 2020 are lifted in May. Detention is one of several ideas under discussion and nothing has been finalized, the officials said.

If families were detained, they would be held for short periods of time, perhaps just a few days, and their cases expedited through immigration court, one official said. The officials were unauthorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on “rumors” that the policy was under consideration. “I’m not saying that it is, I’m not saying that it’s not,” she said. She refused to say whether President Joe Biden believed that detention of families was humane.

Under current policy, families who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border are released into the U.S. and told to appear in immigration court at a later date. During the height of the pandemic, few families were held in custody, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are now using those facilities to hold single adults who cross the border illegally.

But the U.S. has increasingly moved to restrict migrants as it faces record numbers of people coming to the Mexico border seeking asylum and is seeing some success at bringing down the number of migrants making a dangerous and often deadly journey.

The suggestion to again detain families was met with disdain from immigration advocates, who point to studies that show how detrimental detention can be for children and families. Many said they were surprised to hear of the possibility because they had been told families would no longer be detained.

“The Biden administration is seeking to find a balance that protects the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence and the desire to enhance the orderliness of asylum processing,” said Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub. “Detaining families has no place in this quest. We implore the administration to reject this shameful, retrograde practice.”

In 2020, Biden himself said in a tweet after reports that children were being released but not their parents: “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.”

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows some support for changing the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers allowed into the country. About 4 in 10 U.S. adults say the level of immigration and asylum-seekers should be lowered, while about 2 in 10 say it should be higher, according to the poll. About a third want the numbers to remain the same.

Illegal border crossings plummeted after Biden announced Jan. 5 that Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans would be returned to Mexico if they crossed illegally. At the same time, the administration announced that up to 30,000 people from those four countries could come monthly if they applied online, arrived at an airport and had a financial sponsor. The Border Patrol stopped migrants 128,410 times on the Mexican border in January, down 42% from December, which was the highest month on record. February numbers have not been publicly released, but one of the officials told the AP migrants were stopped about 130,000 times.

Last month, the administration said it would generally deny asylum to migrants who show up at the U.S. southern border without first seeking protection in a country they passed through, mirroring an attempt by the Trump administration that never took effect because it was blocked in court.

But most of these efforts do not include families, which are treated differently because of the children traveling. But parents who fear detention may also start sending their children alone, and the number of unaccompanied migrants is also rising.

“I’m alarmed by news reports that the administration is considering reinstating family detention policies,” said Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee. “Not only are these policies cruel and harmful to children, but they don’t prevent families from traveling to the United States.”

The administration has the capacity to house roughly 3,000 people in two family detention centers in Texas.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations detained families in those facilities until their immigration cases played out, though a court order prevents the government from holding children beyond 20 days. A third detention center in Pennsylvania was shut down a few months ago.

Jean-Pierre pushed back against criticism that Biden was reinstating some of the policies of former President Donald Trump, who, among the major changes he made to the immigration system, severely curbed asylum and forcibly separated children from their parents at the border in a policy denounced worldwide as inhumane.

″A lot of people have compared what the president is doing, is either extending what Trump did or being very Trump-like,” Jean-Pierre said. “That is not what is happening here.”

Administration officials are ending the national emergency on May 11 that was brought on by the pandemic. Because the border restrictions known as Title 42 are tied to the national emergency, the administration is also planning to end them on May 11. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a Republican-led effort to leave them in place, but it has removed oral arguments on the case from its calendar.

The majority of migrants who come seeking asylum do not actually win asylum, according to data from the U.S. government. Only about 30% are deemed eligible under U.S. law, which narrowly defines who qualifies. Many people coming are seeking a better life and fleeing poverty and devastation in their home countries, but it doesn’t often mean they get to stay in the U.S.

The two Texas detention centers are in Karnes City and in Dilley. Families would likely be held again in Dilley, which was used to detain families during the Obama and Trump administrations. The New York Times first reported that officials were considering detaining families again.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at a campaign rally Saturd...

Associated Press

Donald Trump wins Missouri and Idaho caucuses, sweeps Michigan GOP convention

Trump continued his march toward the GOP nomination, winning caucuses in Idaho and Missouri and sweeping the convention in Michigan.

8 hours ago

Maine man, 79, dies while hiking Pyramid Trail in Sedona...

Damon Allred

Gov. Katie Hobbs announces Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan, establishes chief heat officer

Gov. Katie Hobbs announced the state's first Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan, creating the country's first state level heat officer.

8 hours ago

Kacey Musgraves, center, performs at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Su...

Kacey Musgraves to play Glendale concert in September

Seven-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves is scheduled to perform at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale on Sept. 27.

10 hours ago

Jose Andres Guerrero Talamantes...

Arrest made in fatal hit-and-run case in Carefree from December

Police arrested a man on Friday on felony hit-and-run charges involving death as part of an investigation into a crash that occurred in Carefree.

12 hours ago

Traffic is backed up on Interstate 10 near State Route 347 south of metro Phoenix...

Report lists Phoenix, Tucson among U.S. cities with worst drivers

Two Arizona cities have landed in the top 10 of a national ranking of places with the worst drivers in the nation.

14 hours ago

Caution tape in front of police car....

2 police officers injured in crash with suspected impaired driver in Phoenix

Two police officers suffered minor injuries in a two-vehicle crash in central Phoenix early Saturday morning.

16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

In reversal, Biden weighs detaining migrant families