Top Democrats are warning President Biden not to restart the controversial practice of detaining migrant families at the southern US border without permission.
“I implore you to learn from the mistakes of your predecessors and abandon any plans to implement this failed plan,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, is the Senate Majority Leader. Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and 17 other senators sent a letter to White on Sunday and shared it exclusively with The Times. Family detention, Conscript Fathers, is “ineffective and impractical as an immigration tool.”
As he prepares for his expected 2024 presidential campaign, Biden has sought to distance himself from the left, showing a willingness to crack down on illegal immigration and pass a GOP bill to block reform of the state’s criminal code. Senate Democrats dropped the letter in an attempt to warn Biden not to take the effort any further.
The letter also represents the potential for divisive immigration issues as the Biden Democrats try to reduce the large number of immigrants from entering the U.S. and applying for asylum.
Most of the letter’s signatories, like over a third of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, come from the progressive wing of the party, including Alex Padilla of California and former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Some moderates, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Catherine Cortez-Masto, have also added their names.
The family resumes are seen as representing a significant change from Biden’s previous positions. The president ended the practice and removed a series of Trump-era immigration restrictions in the first months of his administration, promising a more humane approach.
“I’m not making a new law. I’m taking away bad things from the state,” he declared on his first day in office.
However, in recent months, Biden administration officials have discussed the possibility of re-opening migrant children and their parents, considering the number of migrants being processed at the southern border.
In fiscal year 2022, 2.76 million immigrants crossed the United States border illegally, surpassing the previous annual rate of more than 1 million, according to Customs and Protection data.
The internal debate, and Biden’s decision in February to severely restrict access to asylum for people who cross the border illegally, is likely to undermine the administration’s efforts to rein in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The US is in a progressive establishment after four tumultuous years under former President Trump.
Biden has changed many of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, including the massive work crackdown, and has instituted several new policies, including arrests of pregnant women and expanding “sensitive” areas, such as plays, where arrests are usually prohibited. Under Biden, the freeze generally avoided high-profile arrests of illegal immigrants in the country, including families, which were more common under Trump.
However, one of the administration’s most important goals was to end the detention of families at ICE facilities.
“The best part of the administration’s immigration policies for the first two years is that they ended up detaining families,” Sen. Bob Menendez (DN.J.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on March 19. Going down this road, I fear the president will become “the biggest asylum denier”.
Former presidents George W. Bush and Obama have used family detention as they too have grappled with an increase in border crossings, but a court settlement has prevented the detention of children for more than 20 days. Trump tried to detain the families indefinitely as part of his hardline border policy, but was blocked in court.
ICE has detained families at two facilities near the border: the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which can hold up to 2,400 people, and the Karnes County Family Residential Center near San Antonio since 2014.
During the presidential campaign, in June 2020, Biden tweeted that “children from ICE detention should be released with their parents immediately. This is quite simple, and I can’t believe it when I say it: families must be together.
His administration went ahead with the start of the so-called Family Residential Centers in 72-hour prep centers in March 2021. Detained, families would be detained for weeks after being caught illegally crossing the border. The agency stopped housing family detainees in December 2021 and converted both detention centers to adult detention facilities.
Under the current plan, families are released in the US while they await a court hearing. Authorities are tracking these migrants using wristbands, ankle monitoring devices or mandatory records.
In the literature, Durbin’s studies have shown the negative health effects of family incarceration on children’s well-being. He also claimed that the detention prevented migrants from trying to cross the border. The implementation of the detention plan would coincide with an increase in the family of children and people in family gatherings, an average of 57% per year between 2015 and 2019, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“We understand that your administration faces significant challenges, particularly because of the failure of Congress to enact immigration reform, to handle the influx of asylum seekers coming to our southern border,” the senators wrote.
“However, the recent past has taught us that family detention is both morally reprehensible and ineffective as an immigration enforcement tool. We look forward to working with your Administration on more serious and humane responses to these challenges.”
Democrats’ letter will not necessarily find a sympathetic ear in the Oval Office. Ending Title 42, a Trump-era policy set to expire in May that gives border agents the power to remove migrants without due process, could lead to an increase in border crossings, some administration officials fear.
The president has sought to end Title 42 but has faced legal challenges led by state officials who argue that Title 42 will end in a wave of immigrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. The Supreme Court ordered the administration of the matter to be kept in place until it rules on the states’ lawsuit. However, the administration’s plans to subsidize the state’s COVID-19 health care allow Title 42 to expire on May 11. After this announcement, the Supreme Court struck down the arguments in the case.
As part of the plan, the administration recently released a proposed policy that would limit asylum access to immigrants who cross into the U.S. without permission and do not apply for protection at the southern border en route.
That proposal will not go into effect immediately and will go through a regulatory process allowing for public comment.
After this period the plan will be in effect for two years from its effective date. The latest proposal from the Biden administration is to deter migrants from entering the US illegally and to reduce the number of migrants crossing the southern border.
The United States and Canada reached an agreement last week to allow each country to return asylum seekers who crossed illegally at the northern border in another attempt to crack down on illegal crossings.
A senior Democratic aide told The Times that the administration is finding it difficult for Democrats to win immigration reform, given the provision of permanent status for an estimated 3.6 million dreamers, or immigrants brought to the US illegally. President Obama extended the Act for Childhood Arrivals.
“He inspired the student-implantation trade ban before even demanding that Republicans come to the table to protect DACA recipients if there was any chance of a compromise on this issue,” the aide said.
In January, Biden announced that immigrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela wo
uld be returned to Mexico and ineligible for legal aid if they tried to cross illegally. Illegal border crossings from those four countries dropped from 84,190 in December to 2,050 in February, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection.