The Biden administration is considering keeping undocumented migrant families near the Texas border during their asylum screening, restricting their travel within the U.S., according to three U.S. officials who spoke to The LA Times.
The Biden “remain-in-Texas” policy would hinder migrant families crossing the southern border from coming further into the United States. The number of families crossing the southern border reportedly reached a record high last month.
Since 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has transported thousands of migrants out of his state to cities controlled by Democrats, such as Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Mayors in Democrat-run cities across the country, particularly New York City Mayor Eric Adams, have bridled at the Texas governor’s transmigration tactic to pressure blue states to develop sensible border policies.
Adams recently decried the transmigration tactic, also utilized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as ‘destroying’ New York City, despite the city’s purported “sanctuary city” status.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams expIodes:
The migrants will “destroy New York City” and “everyone will be impacted” pic.twitter.com/R74LydILrR
— End Wokeness (@EndWokeness) September 7, 2023
Under the Biden plan, certain migrant families would be compelled to stay in Texas, or possibly other border states, with their locations monitored via GPS tracking devices like ankle bracelets, according to the three officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
These families would undergo an asylum screening process to determine their eligibility to remain in the U.S. and pursue their claims. Officials have discussed collaborating with local organizations to provide housing for these families.
In the event that these families fail their initial screenings, deportation would be more straightforward since they would be in proximity to the border. Arresting migrant families in the interior of the U.S. is typically more logistically challenging due to the complexities of apprehending children and their parents. Historically, deportations of migrant families are fewer compared to those of single adults seeking asylum in the U.S.
“DHS continuously holds policy and operational discussions on how to leverage our authorities to ensure a fair, humane and effective immigration process that efficiently removes those without a lawful basis to stay in the country,” a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said.
If implemented, this plan would expand upon an existing Biden administration program known as Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM), which imposes curfews and GPS monitoring on migrant families traveling to major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington.
Administration officials had hoped that the FERM program, in combination with videos and news releases highlighting deportations of families, would serve as a deterrent to additional unauthorized border crossings.
However, in July, Border Patrol encountered over 60,000 families crossing the border, constituting nearly half of the total number of border crossers that month. Border Patrol has yet to release the figures for August, but the Washington Post reported last week that it exceeded 91,000, an all-time high.
Since May, families have accounted for a significant portion of the overall increase in border crossings, despite initial expectations that President Biden’s new asylum restrictions would significantly reduce these numbers.
Immigrant advocates have criticized the Biden administration’s treatment of migrant families, arguing that these families lack adequate access to attorneys and sufficient time to prepare their asylum cases.
Robyn Barnard, director of refugee advocacy at Human Rights First, expressed reservations about the “remain-in-Texas” proposal, stating, “People should not be punished for their manner of entry to seek asylum,” she said.
U.S. officials have long urged migrants to enter the country through legal pathways, including scheduling appointments at a port of entry or applying for programs that allow certain migrants to come to the U.S. with a financial sponsor and after passing security checks.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas emphasized the consequences of not using lawful entry routes, stating, “People who do not use available lawful pathways to enter the U.S. now face tougher consequences, including a minimum five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution.”
“We have no plan to detain families,” Mayorkas said in April. “As I mentioned, we will be employing alternatives to detention, including some innovations in that regard, and we will on a case-by-case basis use enhanced alternatives to detention as warranted.”
However, the administration has refrained from reviving the Trump- and Obama-era practice of detaining migrant families at the border.
Yael Schacher, director for the Americas and Europe at Refugees International and a historian of U.S. immigration, noted that forcing migrant families to remain near the border hasn’t been attempted in decades, stating, “There hasn’t been an attempt to force asylum-seeking families to remain in border towns for 35 years.”
In the late 1980s, the Reagan administration compelled thousands of migrants to apply for asylum near the location where they crossed the South Texas border and receive their decisions there. Officials were explicit at the time that this policy aimed to discourage families from crossing.
Migrants lived in church shelters or established camps in parking lots or abandoned buildings while awaiting their initial asylum interviews.
Local officials were outraged and even attempted to evict federal immigration officials from the office they used to process asylum claims. At one point, a Texas state judge prohibited federal officials from operating their office in the South Texas city of Harlingen.
The Biden policy follows upon the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction on Wednesday ordering Texas to take down river buoy barriers near Eagle Point, Texas by September 15.