Reports the Biden administration is considering reinstating migrant family detention at the southern border sparked outrage from immigration activists, but former Trump administration officials are skeptical about how useful such policy initiatives from the Biden administration would be if implemented.
“It’s just 180 degrees from what their strategy has been. Since day one, their strategy has been the antithesis of detention,” former acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told Fox News Digital. “They view that as inhumane and not something that they support. So the fact that there’s talk about detaining families again, I’m very skeptical.”
Multiple outlets reported Monday that the administration is considering reviving the detention of migrant families who crossed the border illegally.
Such a move would mark a significant reversal for the administration, which ended the practice in 2021 and instead released migrant family units into the US interior with notices to appear in court or report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office.
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A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said in a statement that “no decisions have been made as we prepare for the Title 42 public health order to lift.”
The spokesperson was referring to the May 11 halt to Title 42, a Trump-era order enacted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the southern border for public health reasons. Officials have predicted an additional surge at the border when the order is lifted, and the administration has revealed a number of measures to counteract such a shift.
The report sparked fury from immigration activists and some Democrats who were appalled at the idea of a potential return to the practice they see as cruel and inhumane.
But Stephen Miller, who served as a senior advisor in the Trump White House and advocated for tougher policies on illegal immigration, was dismissive of the reports.
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“Every decision the administration has made has been for the singular purpose of bringing more illegal immigrants into the United States as quickly as possible,” he said. “If the administration had any actual desire to reduce illegal immigration, rather than continually increasing it, they would reimplement every Trump policy, beginning with Safe Thirds and Remain in Mexico.”
Thomas Homan, who served at the top levels of ICE in both the Obama and Trump administrations, told Fox News Digital he thinks the move is for show. Homan added that unless changes are made to court-imposed restrictions that now limit family detention to just 20 days, meaning families are unlikely to have their asylum cases heard at that time, it was unlikely to make a major difference.
“I think the election’s coming up. I think it’s all for election purposes. I think it’s all politics,” he said. “Unless we can hold them long enough to see a judge, it impacts border security minimally.”
Homan said that during the Obama administration and before the 20-day limit was imposed, border numbers declined as officials were able to expedite cases and quickly deport migrants. Without a new tighter time frame being changed, cases are unlikely to be able to be heard at that time.
Homan did add that the time in the family residential centers will allow migrants to get medical care, and officials can verify whether a child is part of a family unit or is being trafficked.
“It gives us time to verify their addresses, verify where they’re going, verify who they’re going to live with. We can make sure we send the notices [to appear] to the right house, give us time to verify their family groups. It gives us time to make sure they’re healthy, that they’re not carrying diseases into the communities,” Homan said. “But unless they have judges to expedite the hearings, it’s not going to have a tremendous impact on border security. “
He also pushed back against claims by activists that detention was cruel, noting that centers had features like Zumba classes and movie screenings, as well as medical care that migrants had sometimes been missing.
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“Many of the childhood vaccinations these children received, they received from us. Many of them saw a dentist for the first time in their life at these facilities. Or a doctor,” he said. “These families go through a very rough journey to this country, and we can take care of the medical needs … and having child psychologists there to talk about some of the things these children might have seen during this journey or, you know, leaving the country and coming to a new country. It was very expensive, but it served a great purpose, I thought.”
Morgan was similarly doubtful asylum hearings would be expedited by a judge at the border, although he suggested a new asylum rule that allows asylum officers to hear cases rather than judges would be used to move them through via what he said would be a “rubber stamp” .”
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“If that’s not the goal, their goal is then just to alleviate the bad political optics of local NGOs and the border being overwhelmed, and they’re going to push them to these family residential centers that are located in other areas of the border, where they will give them a transition period before they process and release them,” Morgan said.
He also suggested the new reports could be a sign of the political pressure the Biden administration is facing over a border crisis that is now deep into its third year and has been a constant thorn in its side. Although, the administration has been claiming recent measures it has introduced are working.
“I think it’s also an indication of how they too can no longer pretend that what is happening under their leadership isn’t a complete colossal failure, period,” Morgan said.