Biden administration reportedly considering the return of family detention at the U.S.-Mexico border

President Joe Biden had moved away from a family separation policy over the past few years.

By Sarah AschMarch 8, 2023 10:40 am,

The Biden administration is considering reviving the practice of detaining migrant families who cross the border illegally, according to the New York Times.

Although no final decision has been made, this change would be a stark reversal for President Joe Biden, who had moved from this policy over the past two years.

Carla Angulo-Pasel, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said it’s important to remember that so far this is only a discussion.

“We don’t necessarily know what it would look like if reinstated. So we’re not really familiar, for instance, where these families would be held, how long they would be held for,” she said. “For instance, there has been some discussion about using the Dilley facility in South Texas, which was used previously. But all of these things right now are happening in discussions.”

Angulo-Pasel said if this change is made, it wouldn’t be the first time the Biden administration reversed its position on an immigration policy.

“If reinstated, this could be used alongside the proposed enforcement rule, which has been called the transit ban, which is similar to Safe Third Country Agreements that would penalize asylum seekers who do not request safe refuge in other countries they pass through on their way to the U.S. border,” she said. “Trump tried to institute this policy during his administration, but courts stopped it.”

The Biden administration might be considering reinstating family detention as a response to the expected end of Title 42, Angulo-Pasel said, the pandemic-era policy that allowed rapid deportation of migrants because of the global health emergency.

“If Title 42 does end, there has been fear that there is going to be, again, this rush towards the border and migrants are going to be asking for asylum. And the crisis situation, for instance, that happened in 2014 with Obama could recreate itself in terms of not having the resources, not having the facilities available,” she said. “So all of these policies are being discussed in order to try and mitigate that.”

Angulo-Pasel said one of her biggest concerns is the impact this policy change could have on families — and especially on children. She cited the Flores Agreement, which says children should only be held in detention for 20 days, but said given the lack of details about the possible new policy it’s hard to say what the reality will be.

Biden advocates for an immigration system that’s safe, orderly and humane. But of course, family tension is anything but humane. It’s actually quite inhumane. And research shows that there is trauma that children can experience in detention; they’re being incarcerated with much higher levels of depression, stress, anxiety, PTSD, even suicidal thoughts,” she said. “Children are still developing. And to have them be incarcerated, to have them be in detention, causes great harm overall in the short term and long term.”

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