The Biden administration is reportedly weighing whether to reinstate a policy of detaining migrant families who cross the border without authorization, a practice President Joe Biden condemned and ended when he took office. Catholic immigration advocates have vocally opposed the policy as well.
Multiple media reports, first by The New York Times, indicated that reinstatement of the family detention policy is one of several strategies administration officials are considering as they prepare for the upcoming termination of Title 42. The federal public health rule permitting immigration officials at the border to block migrants seeking asylum from entry into the U.S. expires in May. The Trump administration implemented Title 42 in 2020 in tandem with COVID-19 mitigation efforts, although the move was seen as part of his attempts to reduce migration more broadly.
As a presidential candidate, Biden characterized Trump's policy as inhumane. If the policy were reimplemented, it would constitute a notable reversal for Biden, the nation's second Catholic president.
In a March 7 briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would neither confirm nor deny "rumors" about the policy's potential reimplementation.
"I'm not saying it is (being considered), and I'm not saying it is not," Jean-Pierre told reporters. "I'm saying that I'm not going to speak to rumors."
Jean-Pierre said Biden wants to "build an immigration system that is secure, that is orderly, and that is humane, and that's how we're going to move forward" after Title 42 is lifted.
Catholic immigration advocates condemned the potential reinstatement of the policy.
"After the positive step the Biden Administration took to largely end the practice of family detention, we now learn that the administration is considering taking a huge step back on dignified treatment for families seeking refuge," Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of Hope Border Institute, told OSV News.
"It is disheartening to see the administration implementing policies that are not prioritizing human dignity and are not the solution," Corbett said. "These policies continue to play with the rights and safety of vulnerable migrants at the border."
The Biden administration has recently announced a series of actions on immigration, including efforts aimed at preventing the labor exploitation of migrant children released from U.S. custody, as well as its most restrictive border control measure to date. The administration plans to issue a temporary rule blocking asylum-seekers who cross the border without authorization or who do not first apply for protections in other nations before coming to the southern border, which will likely take effect in May.
Regarding the potential reinstatement of the family detention policy, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, told OSV News in a March 8 statement, "While we eagerly await a formal response from the administration regarding these reports, to even consider the resumption of family detention as a means to deter migration is disturbing."
"Such an approach would be contrary to Catholic teaching and do nothing to address the root causes of migration," Bishop Seitz said. "It would inflict lasting harm on asylum-seeking families, many of whom have already suffered severe trauma. Rather than embracing this costly and inhumane approach, we continue calling on the administration to expand community-based case management as a just alternative to detention."