Biden’s Immigration Dilemma: Keeping Promises

Although President Joe Biden promised to end the seemingly draconian immigration policies of the previous administration and reclaim the country’s supposed reputation as a safe haven for immigrants everywhere, some supporters are enraged as he continues to expel tens of thousands of migrants, restores an unlicensed shelter for migrant children and struggles to implement policy changes without a full staff in place, reports the Washington Post.

And as former president Donald Trump dispatched his deputies to the Hill on Wednesday to lobby against Biden’s immigration overhauls, and Trump plans to blast those changes in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, An Immigration and Customs Enforcement email obtained by The Washington Post shows that the administration has already entered crisis mode on the southern border.

An email from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement reports that shelters have been authorized to purchase airline tickets and cover other transportation costs for unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border and whose relatives are already living in the United States.

The White House has yet to announce a nominee for the director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, or a commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the two most important immigration enforcement jobs. However, on Wednesday the White House scrapped a Trump order that shut the door to visa holders and other legal immigrants on the grounds that their arrival would hurt the U.S. labor market under strain from the coronavirus pandemic and advocates for immigrants agreed to stand down on several crucial lawsuits involving migrant families and unaccompanied children, giving the administration 30 more days to put new policies in place.

Since Biden’s promise not to expel any more minors, the number of minors in federal custody has more than tripled to 7,000, prompting officials to reopen an overflow shelter in Texas to house them — even though the shelter is not state-licensed, as required — until officials can place them with a parent or guardian in the United States. Of the more than 1 million migrants who arrived as part of family groups between 2014 and mid-2020, just 6 percent have been returned home, while 4.7 percent have been granted asylum or some form of legal status, DHS data shows.

Of the remaining 89 percent whose legal claims remain unresolved, 67 percent had cases pending in U.S. courts, while 20 percent have received deportation orders or an offer of voluntary departure, the statistics show.

The challenges emerge as the administration faces a new crisis on the southern border.

More than 700 children who crossed from Mexico into the United States without their parents were in Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, reports Axios. Of the more than 700 kids waiting to be transferred to shelters overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 200 had been held in these Border Patrol stations for more than 48 hours. Nine had been detained for longer than the agreed-upon limit of 72 hours, according to the internal document, which timestamped the data current as of 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 21.

The much-criticized Trump-era policy of separating children from their parents is no longer in place, but rising numbers of children arriving now are unaccompanied, meaning they are detained alone anyway. During the surge in 2019, government watchdogs found severe overcrowding and concerning sanitation, health and safety issues at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol intake facilities, which are special concerns for children. In January, at least 179 migrant minors spent more than three days in CBP custody, as well as at least 48 kids in December, CBS News’ Camilo Montoya-Galvez reported this week.

Coronavirus protocols have also significantly lowered the number of children who can be held at the longer-term HHS shelters, with the Biden administration already being forced to open a temporary influx shelter in Texas for child migrants, which also has the capacity to add tent-like structures. Although the Biden administration halted the use of an emergency health order that had allowed the Trump administration to quickly expel migrant children who crossed the border, some experts now say that Biden’s policy reversal is part of the reason for the recent increase in unaccompanied children arriving at the border.

Additional Reading:

Biden’s 100-day Deportation Pause Banned Indefinitely

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