In reversal, Biden weighs detaining migrant families

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.

The U.S. has increasingly moved to restrict migrants as it faces growing numbers of people coming to the Mexico border seeking asylum. COVID-era restrictions have allowed U.S. immigration officials to quickly turn around most migrants, and during the height of the pandemic few families were being detained.

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.

The administration has the capacity to house roughly 3,000 people in two family detention centers in Texas. Right now, the centers house single adults who cross the border illegally.

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.

No decision is final, according to the four officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. The New York Times first reported that officials were considering detaining families again.

Administration officials are ending the national emergency on May 11 that was brought on by the pandemic. Because the border restrictions are tied to the national emergency, those also end 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.

Homeland Security officials are struggling to come up with ways to stop migrants from coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. The vast majority of migrants who come seeking asylum are not eligible for asylum.

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.


Spagat reported from San Diego.

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