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U.S. weighing reviving long-term detention of migrant families with children

U.S. considers reinstating old migrant policy
U.S. reportedly considering reinstating detention of migrant families 04:25

El Paso, Texas — The Biden administration is considering reinstating the practice of holding migrant families with children in long-term detention facilities as it prepares for the end of pandemic-era border restrictions in early May, three sources familiar with the internal deliberations tell CBS News.

The proposal, the sources said, is one of several policy options being considered at a high level by senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials in preparation for an expected increase in migration along the U.S.-Mexico border beginning on May 11, when the Title 42 migrant expulsion policy is set to end with the expiration of the national COVID-19 public health emergency.

The move would allow the U.S. government to resume the practice of detaining migrant parents and minor children in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities while asylum officers determine whether they should be allowed to seek U.S. refuge.

That practice, first implemented at scale by the Obama administration and expanded by the Trump administration, was discontinued in 2021 by the Biden administration, which converted the two migrant family detention facilities in Texas into rapid processing hubs and detention sites for single adults.

If approved, the reinstatement of the family detention policy would be a major reversal by President Biden, whose administration has recently sought to stiffen border enforcement amid mass migration in the Western Hemisphere.

A father holds his daughter after they illegally crossed the U.S. southern border with Mexico on Oct. 10, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
A father holds his daughter after they illegally crossed the U.S. southern border with Mexico on Oct. 10, 2022, in Eagle Pass, Texas. ALLISON DINNER/AFP via Getty Images

As part of multiple promises to replace hardline Trump administration border policies with a "humane" approach to migration, Mr. Biden vowed to end the prolonged detention of migrant families.

In response to the proposal, which was first reported by The New York Times on Monday, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Luis Miranda said no final decisions had been made.

"The Administration will continue to prioritize safe, orderly, and humane processing of migrants," Miranda added in a statement.

A Biden administration official said any detention of families with children would comply with a court consent decree known as the Flores agreement that governs the detention of minors in U.S. immigration custody. As part of the litigation surrounding this case, the government generally has to release migrant families within 20 days.

The official said the families would undergo an expedited process under a proposed regulation that will make it harder for non-Mexican migrants to secure U.S. asylum. That rule is slated to be finalized before Title 42's termination.

The asylum restriction proposed last month is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to crack down on illegal crossings along the southern border, which spiked in 2021 and 2022.

In January, the administration announced an expansion of Title 42, after Mexico agreed to accept the return of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who attempted to enter the U.S. Before the expansion, Mexico generally only accepted the return of its citizens and Central American migrants.

The administration has paired the application of Title 42 for those who cross the border illegally with expanded opportunities for certain migrants to enter the U.S. legally.

A sponsorship program is allowing up to 30,000 Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans to fly to the U.S. legally each month if Americans agree to sponsor them. Officials are also allowing roughly 20,000 asylum-seekers to request entry at official ports of entry along the southern border per month through a mobile app. 

The strategy has so far led to a sharp drop in unlawful border crossings. But officials predict that numbers could spike again once Title 42 expires.

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