One group of immigrant rights activists Thursday demanded that the Biden team shut down 10 ICE detention facilities this year.
Another group of about 100 activists, including those protected by DACA, marched on the Democratic National Committee this week to demand that the party move faster on the promises made last year to Hispanic and immigrant voters.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, unloaded on the Biden administration after it was revealed that Homeland Security was reopening an unlicensed facility to hold illegal immigrant children, after it was shut down during the Trump years.
“This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay — no matter the party or administration,” the influential congresswoman said in a post on Twitter.
The White House shot back by saying the shelter was the only option to handle what is known in governmentspeak as unaccompanied alien children, or UAC.
The juveniles, who arrive at the border without parents, are essentially deemed orphaned as far as their presence in the U.S. and are held by the Health and Human Services Department in dorm-style housing until sponsors can be found to take them.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the arrangement.
“Our best option, in our view, is to get these kids processed through HHS facilities, where there are COVID protocols in place, where they are safe, where they have access to educational and medical care,” Ms. Psaki said. “There are very few good options here, and we chose the one we thought is best.”
President Biden has moved aggressively in his early days to roll back the Trump administration’s stricter immigration policy, but it has left him in a no-man’s land politically. Security experts and congressional Republicans say he is inviting a new wave of illegal immigration, and his left flank says he is being too strict.
As border numbers rise, it has left the administration struggling to find its footing and pleading with migrants not to come. But coming they are.
The children are a particularly troubling phenomenon. Thousands make the trip each month from Central America without parents. A majority are ages 16 and 17, but the Border Patrol says it has seen a rise in “tender age” migrants, defined as those younger than 13.
In the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector in western Arizona, agents last week reported a doubling of the number of tender age UACs so far this year compared with the same months last year.
The Biden administration says it had to reopen the unlicensed facility in Texas in order to have more social distance space because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say there is no other choice: The children can’t be put on the streets and must be cared for while social workers search for sponsors.
Immigrant rights groups counter that the children should be placed in licensed home settings, not the dormitory-style buildings and camps.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, responding to a Washington Post tweet reporting that the Biden team had reopened the Texas facility, said it was time to ax the entire Homeland Security Department and that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles detention and deportation, has “gotta go.”
The Detention Watch Network, which wants to abolish ICE’s detention capabilities, set a new goal Thursday for the Biden team to close at least 10 detention facilities this year as a down payment.
“Simply put, people navigating their immigration case should be able to do so with their families and loved ones — not behind bars in immigration detention,” said Silky Shah, the group’s executive director.
Her group complained that Mr. Biden is more than a month into his tenure and has yet to address the detention situation.
The president has, however, been active on plenty of other immigration matters.
His team attempted to carry out his promise of a 100-day deportation pause at ICE, but a federal judge in Texas ruled the move illegal because the administration cut too many corners.
ICE has moved to curtail deportations anyway through new guidance restricting the types of migrants whom deportation officers can arrest and remove from the country. But immigrant rights groups are split over the new rules. Some say they are a good step and others say they still leave too many people in danger of removal.
It’s too early to judge what the actual effects on deportation numbers will be.
The administration has brought back catch-and-release of newly arrived illegal immigrants at the border and is actively working to bring some 25,000 migrants whom the Trump administration returned to Mexico to wait until their immigration court dates in the U.S.
Congressional Republicans say all of the Biden moves are encouraging more illegal immigrants to come.
Ms. Psaki acknowledged rising numbers but declined a reporter’s invitation to call it a “crisis.”
“I don’t think I’m going to put new labels on it from here or from the podium, but it is a priority of the administration, it’s a priority of our secretary of homeland security, and certainly of the president, who’s kept abreast of the developments,” she said.