President Joe Biden said he is negotiating with Mexico to “take back” more immigrant families crossing the southern border as Trump-era restrictions are being rolled back.
During his first press conference since taking office, Biden was put on the defensive regarding his handling of the southern border and vowed to speed up the release of unaccompanied children from cramped Border Patrol stations.
One of the Trump-era policies Biden has kept in place is the practice of turning back many immigrants at the southern border under a public health order meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, known as Title 42. Unaccompanied children have been the exception, but in recent weeks, the number of families crossing the border and being allowed to stay in the US has increased after Mexican officials passed a law prohibiting undocumented immigrant children from being held in detention centers. With no space to hold the families in US facilities, and Mexico refusing to take them back, they’ve started to be released in Texas border cities like McAllen and Brownsville.
Biden on Thursday said he was negotiating with the president of Mexico to address the refusals to take back families at the border: “I think we are going to see that can change.”
He added that the families "should all be going back” and that only unaccompanied children would be the exception.
The ACLU has been in negotiations with the US government for several weeks over blocking the use of Title 42 against families, and recently agreed to a delay in any judgment by the federal court to allow for a continued discussion. Biden’s comments, however, appeared to raise the possibility that those negotiations could be jeopardized.
“We put our Title 42 case for families on temporary hold in exchange for good faith promise to negotiate. But POTUS JUST said his hope is that U.S. wants to expel ALL families if Mexico will allow them,” Lee Gelernt, the leading ACLU attorney on the case, tweeted. “Then litigation may be only choice.”
Biden on Thursday acknowledged the problem of overcrowding in Border Patrol stations but said his administration would soon transfer 1,000 children out of those facilities and into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. In recent days, HHS officials have scrambled to add additional capacity to help relieve the overcrowding.
Still, Biden insisted that decisions to send children to the border were more rooted in the situation facing their families in their home countries than the policy choices of a president.
As of Wednesday, the number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody had jumped again to 5,156, which appears to be the highest number in the last several weeks. Border agents had encountered more than 700 children on Wednesday alone. HHS officials have expanded capacity and are now holding nearly 12,000 children.