Aug 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden wants new housing program for migrant families

A Peruvian family seeking asylum in the United States wait in line to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents on May 11, 2023. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Biden administration is asking Congress to approve a temporary housing program for migrant families that illegally cross the southern border — a plan that would give them more freedom than traditional detention, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The government has struggled to balance humanitarian concerns about detaining migrant children while enforcing immigration laws amid a rise in families illegally crossing the border to seek asylum.

  • The administration's ask is part of a $40 billion emergency funding request to Congress. The package includes nearly $2.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security's various border efforts.

Driving the news: DHS wants the ability to use funds to set up new types of facilities to hold migrant families as they go through an expedited asylum and deportation process.

  • Migrant family members would be able to come and go as they please during the day, but would be required to check in and stay the night on the campus, a DHS official told Axios.
  • "We do not view this as family detention," the official said.
  • The facilities would allow immigration agencies to more easily keep track of migrants throughout the asylum process, but also could ease the burden on local shelters near the border to house recent arrivals, officials say.
  • DHS also is asking Congress for permission to look into for-profit contractors or non-governmental organization grantees to run the facilities.

What to watch: Officials say this kind of set-up would help meet court-ordered requirements for facilities housing children, but it's unclear whether the facilities still would have to release families in less than 21 days, under those requirements.

  • Either way, the official told Axios they expect to be able to get families in these facilities through the legal process within three weeks because of the government's recent efforts to expedite the process.
  • It's not the only move the administration has made recently to try to address a surge in families of migrants and asylum seekers.
  • ICE has been rapidly expanding a program to more quickly deport migrant families that illegally cross the border and don't qualify for asylum. It uses GPS monitoring and home curfew requirements for those enrolled.

Between the lines: The Biden administration quietly ended detentions of migrant families in 2021, while ramping up the use of tracking technology and check-ins by phone call as families make their way through the immigration process.

  • Faced with the end of restrictive pandemic policy called Title 42, the administration came under fire for considering a return to family detention.
  • The new housing plan would mirror some systems in Europe.

The big picture: For a long time, border officials typically encountered only single adults illegally crossing the southern border — often of Mexican nationality.

  • But in the past decade, families — especially those from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have made up a significant share of those caught by the Border Patrol.
  • U.S. border policies and infrastructure have not fully adjusted to the new demographic, leaving many facilities unsuitable for minors who may cross with their parents.
  • In addition, courts have put guardrails around how minors can be detained even with their parents — forcing officials to release families from detention after no more than 20 days.
  • As president, Donald Trump tried to solve the problem by separating families.
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