The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is projecting that some 117,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) could end up at our southern border this year.
February figures were the largest for the group and month in history. These alarming numbers are not what the Biden administration should want — especially this early in the term and amidst a global pandemic.
If the Biden administration wants to regain control of the southern border, it must immediately reinstate the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, restore the practice of returning unaccompanied minors to their country of origin and hold itself accountable for sending mixed messages to migrants.
In January, President Joe Biden suspended the MPP program — a program that required migrants seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico until their immigration hearing date. Some 25,000 migrants have been allowed to enter the country and told to return to their hearing at a later date.
However, history has shown that as many as 90% of asylum claimants will never show up for their hearing and will disappear into the interior of the country, mainly to take advantage of economic opportunities. These reasons are exactly why the Trump administration created the MPP in the first place.
“Catch and release” is serving as a major pull factor for migrants — especially unaccompanied minors — to come to the border.
Another way Biden can help reduce the recent surge in unaccompanied minors is by restoring the practice of returning unaccompanied minors to Mexico or their country of origin — rather than keeping them in our country.
Unaccompanied minor children from Mexico and Canada can be returned to their countries almost immediately. But migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador cannot be returned expeditiously due to existing immigration and detention laws.
Seeing that the vast majority of minors come from the Northern Triangle, the Trump administration took advantage of Title 42 — a public health order that allows for quick repatriation of illegal entrants, including minors — no matter where they are originally from. This was done in order to avoid a border crisis in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Title 42 is still in place, but the Biden administration is not fully utilizing it and has discontinued the practice of sending unaccompanied minors back to Mexico or to their countries of origin. This means that as soon as unlawful minors are apprehended, they will be released into our country rather than sent home.
And, although it is highly unlikely under the current Congress, the legislative branch has the authority to reform current immigration and detention standards, and overrule judicial rulings that all but guarantee admission of unaccompanied minors. These laws and judicial edicts create a magnet for illegal immigration and promote the endangerment of children at the hands of human smugglers.
Biden must also hold himself and his administration accountable for sending mixed messages to thousands of minors — particularly in Mexico and Central America — and must formulate more consistent and forceful immigration messaging.
In just his first few days in office, President Biden implemented a number of immigration initiatives that encouraged migrants to come to the southern border illegally. These include halting all border wall construction, freezing deportations for at least 100 days (that thankfully was blocked by a federal judge) and introducing legislation that provides amnesty for virtually every illegal alien in our country.
These actions basically say if you come here illegally, you will get to stay.
Soon after these initiatives and messages went out, the southern border began to experience record surges to the point where both Biden’s press secretary and head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publicly stated that now is not the time for migrants to come to the border.
The mixed messaging has created turmoil at the southern border and has jeopardized the lives of many migrant children.
With record numbers of unaccompanied minors continuing to come to the southern border, Biden and his administration must act quickly. Its current immigration policies and messaging are facilitating a minor migrant crisis that should not happen — especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
Matthew Tragesser is press secretary at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.