Biden Prepares Major Changes to Immigrant Family Detention Centers

As the Biden administration copes with the rise in immigrants and unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the Department of Homeland Security is planning to transform immigration facilities located in South Texas into “Ellis Island-style rapid-processing hubs,” according to the Washington Post’s description of Department of Homeland Security draft plans.

Biden said on the campaign trail that “children should be released from ICE detention with their parents immediately,” and many advocates agree. The goal of these hubs would be to speed up the process, aiming to screen and release migrant parents and their children within 72 hours of their arrival. But right now, the administration is facing a shortage of staff and room in existing facilities due to a growing number of migrants who have been crossing the border in recent months.

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In January of this year, 78,000 people were arrested along the border, according to Customs and Border Patrol. That’s more than double the numbers from January 2020. And because Trump dismantled much of the country’s immigration infrastructure, that is also is contributing to the strain. The Trump administration made more than 1,000 changes to the immigration system, as tracked by the Immigration Policy Tracking Project, and those changes “could take months or years” for Biden to undo, according to Lawfare.

Biden also has not ended protocols put in place by Trump that allow the United States to turn away most asylum seekers trying to cross the border since the pandemic began. Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, called Title 42 “a thinly-veiled bigoted and xenophobic action that has achieved its goal of cutting off access to asylum for thousands, cloaked in the pretense of protecting public health.”

The president has made some progress, however, including issuing an executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and establishing the Task Force on the Reunification of Families. And Biden proposed a comprehensive immigration overhaul to Congress, although that has since stalled although that has since stalled amid opposition from Republicans and centrist Democrats. Still, despite Biden’s actions, some are concerned that the administration has doubled the number of family members in detention since taking office. According to federal records obtained by the Post, 228 adults and children were in detention when Biden took office, and now there are 476. And the administration received criticism when it reopened a border shelter for unaccompanied teens coming across the U.S.-Mexico border, although Biden said his hope was that it “won’t stay open very long.”

Biden officials have acknowledged the difficulties. “We are challenged at the border,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a Monday briefing. “It is a stressful challenge.” He described the immigration system as having been “gutted.”

“I learned that we did not have the facilities available or equipped to administer the humanitarian laws that our Congress passed years ago,” Mayorkas added. “We did not have the personnel, policies, procedures or training to administer those laws. Quite frankly, the entire system was gutted.”

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