Biden administration to transform family detention centers into migrant screening hubs: report
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is reportedly drafting plans to transform family migrant detention centers in South Texas into screening hubs as the Biden administration faces a growing number of migrants at the southern border.
The Washington Post, which obtained internal DHS draft documents outlining the plans, reported Thursday that senior ICE official Russell Hott informed staff in an email this week that the number of unaccompanied minors and families arriving in the U.S. in 2021 is “expected to be the highest” recorded “in over 20 years.”
According to the Post, Hott added that with more than 500 family members arriving per day, the shift from detention to Ellis Island-style processing centers “may not be sufficient to keep pace with apprehensions,” with the potential for some migrants to be housed in hotels.
DHS officials, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the transition to rapid processing and release centers has already begun.
The reported change comes as the latest move in President Biden’s efforts to reform the U.S. immigration system and keep up with the rising number of migrants crossing into the country amid shortages of bed space and personnel at detention centers.
The reported plans also mark a shift from policies under the Obama and Trump administrations, when most migrant families were quickly released or deported upon arriving in the U.S., with some being held in dormitory-style centers for extended periods of time as they awaited immigration proceedings.
The Biden administration has publicly said it is reviewing how family detention facilities are used, though the Post noted that the administration last week told a federal judge that the policies had not yet changed.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) oversees three “family residential centers,” and the Post reported that the agency confirmed it had released all 21 people who were being held at the 96-bed Berks Family Residential Facility in Leesport, Pa., though officials did not provide a reason for doing so.
An ICE spokeswoman reportedly told the Post that most migrants who attempt to cross the southern border are still being expelled.
An ICE spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill, “The Department continues to utilize all available authorities and processes, including the expulsion of individuals apprehended at the border pursuant to CDC authority, to address the ongoing public health challenges.”
“In order to humanely address the current situation along the Southwest Border, ICE continues to evaluate the manner in which it utilizes its existing family residential centers, which remain fully operational, to safely, effectively, and efficiently process and screen families,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that given the pandemic, now “is not the time to come to the U.S. Southwest Border and attempt to illegally enter the United States.”
“COVID-related travel restrictions remain in place and will be enforced,” the ICE official wrote. “It will take time to rebuild our asylum process.”
The report of plans to transform facilities comes after the Biden administration last month rolled out its proposal to begin replacing former President Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy, which blocked migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border from entering the country to apply for asylum.
The Biden administration last month said it will begin processing as many as 300 people per day at three different undisclosed ports of entry starting Feb. 19.