Families expelled to Ciudad Juarez
Officials are considering a return to the Trump-era policy amid mounting pressure. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images.

Biden admin said to be considering detaining migrant families again, per New York Times report

The policy was one the administration did away with over two years ago, but increasing immigration pressure may force a flip from the president.


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The Biden administration may look no different from the Trump administration when it comes to immigration very soon, as a report from the New York Times on the night of Monday, March 6, 2023 revealed that the administration is considering returning to detaining migrant families. The Times cited “officials familiar with the discussions” as the source of the news.

No final decision on the matter has been made or announced yet by the administration, but the policy is one Biden did away with almost immediately upon taking office in 2021. It’s also something he spoke out against on the campaign trail in 2020.

“Children should be released from ICE detention with their parents immediately,” Biden wrote in a Twitter post in June 2020, also cited by the Times. “This is pretty simple, and I can’t believe I have to say it: Families belong together.”

So why bring it back?

For one, the administration is facing continually mounting pressure to find an answer to the massive influx of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum from dangerous living conditions in Central or South American countries. The issue has been one Republicans have harped on since Biden took office in 2021, and that Trump-appointed judges have blocked the president from changing by striking down many of the “humane” policies he’s tried to put in place via executive order.

In place of family detention, the administration has been releasing families into the U.S. with different forms of tracking — from cell phones to ankle monitors. 

However, that’s where the humanity has ended for the Biden administration’s approach to immigration. The Trump-era Title 42, which Biden initially attempted to do away with before being blocked by a Texas judge, remains in place until May 11. After fighting against the COVID-era policy that allowed for the quick deportation of asylum seekers, Biden eventually came to support the measure staying in place. 

Its pending deadline is also what has officials discussing the possibility of restarting migrant family detention, expecting an increased influx of migrants that can’t be deported as easily.

“The administration will continue to prioritize safe, orderly and humane processing of migrants,” Luis Miranda, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement to the New York Times

But should family detention return, the humane part will be in question. Two consultants for the federal government in 2018 identified a “high risk of harm” for children that experienced detention. Instead of being with their families for the trip north, many were sent alone to avoid the family being detained in facilities, representing a de facto family separation reminiscent of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

Biden is the first president of the new millennium to not use migrant family detention, as both Bush and Obama did it prior to Trump’s expansion and faced equal criticism for the conditions in facilities. 

On the PA front, Biden’s administration also eventually answered the call of closing the Berks County Detention Center, which was once a migrant family detention center. But there still remains Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in the state, and it’s open for business.

“Ending the inhumane practice of family detention has been one of the only positive immigration policy decisions of the Biden administration,” Leecia Welch, one of the immigration lawyers behind the 1997 Flores case that limited the amount of time migrant children could spend in detention, told the New York Times. “It is heartbreaking to hear there could be a return to the Trump-era use of this practice.”


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