Mar 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: ICE securing hotel rooms to hold growing number of migrant families

A family of Central American asylum seekers arrives to a bus station after being dropped off by U.S. Border Patrol agents on February 25, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas.
A family of Central American asylum seekers arrives to a bus station after being dropped off by Border Patrol. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration has awarded an $86 million contract for hotel rooms near the border to hold around 1,200 migrant family members who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, DHS officials confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: It's a sign of growing numbers of migrant families trying to come to the U.S. — in addition to already overwhelming numbers of kids crossing the border without their parents or legal guardians. Both trends appear to be straining government resources.

  • The contract through Endeavors, a Texas-based nonprofit, is for six months but could be extended and expanded. The hotels will be near border areas, including in Arizona and Texas.
  • ICE oversees the custody of migrant adults and families who cross the border illegally after they are apprehended by border patrol agents. The agency is already transforming its family detention facilities into rapid-processing centers with the goal of releasing families within 72 hours.
  • Regardless, the contracts with hotels point to the agency not being able to keep up with the growing numbers of families in its custody.

The big picture: Immigration agencies have used hotels in the past — as recently as last year for unaccompanied minors who the Trump administration was quickly expelling under an emergency public health order.

  • Hotel rooms are likely a safer option than border patrol stations, but do not have to follow the same safety protocols that official government detention spaces do.

By the numbers: The number of migrant family members caught crossing the southwest border more than doubled between January and February — rising from 7,000 to nearly 19,000, according to the most recently released agency data.

  • Border officials continue to use a Trump-era order to quickly return many families to Mexico. But Mexico has limited capacity to take in migrant families and won't accept some with young children, according to administration officials.
  • 42% of families were expelled to Mexico last month — down from 64% in January and 91% in October, according to the data. More than 13,000 family members who crossed the U.S. border illegally have been allowed into the country since the start of January, many released into border communities.
  • The Biden administration does not use the order to expel unaccompanied children, as the previous administration did.

What to watch: The Biden administration has been pressuring the Mexican government to increase its own immigration enforcement, to help slow the number of Central Americans making their way through the country to the U.S.-Mexico border, the New York Times and Washington Post have reported.

  • The U.S. is also giving more than 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Mexico.
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