The Biden administration is reportedly mulling sending planeloads of migrants to states closer to neighboring Canada for processing as an emergency measure amid a surge in attempted crossings at the southern border, reported The Washington Post.
The options were weighed after Friday morning witnessed at least 1,000 unaccompanied minors and family units cross the Rio Grande into Texas, while another 1,000 were still awaiting processing from the night before, according to two cited Department of Homeland Security officials.
The outlet also cited an email as suggesting that border officials had requested air support from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) due to the challenges posed by the extraordinary volume of unauthorised border crossings in recent days, which have resulted in overwhelmed facilities in Texas.
Children and families were reportedly forced to wait outdoors for hours as a backlog has been compounded by a record number of over 4,500 unaccompanied minors held in detention cells and border tent sites.
The Biden administration has been using a pandemic-related health order dating to Trump’s White House tenure - Title 42 - to automatically deport anyone caught illegally crossing the border, applying it to adults and families, but not to unaccompanied children.
According to the cited email, there is no indication as to whether United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has determined which northern and coastal states could receive the reported flights.
Internal DHS communications seen by The Washington Post allegedly warned that overcrowding at border facilities had spiralled into a life-or-death emergency.
The reported airlifting initiative is not new, as at the height of the 2019 border surge during the tenure of then-president Donald Trump, ICE Air flights were resorted to, albeit during warmer months, with migrants sent to different border sectors, depending on capacity reports.
Recently, migrant families had been airlifted on ICE planes from the crowded Rio Grande Valley facilities to the El Paso area, writes the outlet.
Border Patrol chief in the Rio Grande Valley Brian Hastings tweeted to say more than 2,000 migrants were taken into custody on 18 March, with 10,000 arrests and detentions in less than a week.
RGV agents remained busy on Thursday, apprehending over 2000 illegal aliens. Thursday's encounters pushed RGV's weekly total over 10K apprehensions! March monthly totals are now over 34K for #RGV Sector alone.#crossingyourborders pic.twitter.com/nga2wgBI6A— Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings (@USBPChiefRGV) March 19, 2021
According to Hastings, over 34,000 migrants have been taken in at the specific sector of the border this month so far - twice as high as the data for all of January.
US law enforcement agents encountered over 100,000 migrants at the border with Mexico in February - the highest monthly total since the historic surge in mid-2019.
CBP said in a Friday statement that “currently there are no plans to transfer migrants from the Southwest border to the Northern or Coastal borders.”
‘Challenge, Not a Crisis’
The challenging border situation was described as being “under control” by Democratic leaders on Friday, amid an inspection trip by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the southern border facilities.
“The Biden administration has this under control. It will take some — it is change and it will take some time. But it is values-based, humanitarian in its aspects and pragmatic with a plan to get things done,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was cited as saying by AP, as the Biden administration continued to downplay the current developments as a “challenge,” not a “crisis”.
However, critics have slammed Mayorkas’ trip for being closed to the press, with a growing chorus of Republicans and some Democrats warning that the situation is spiralling out of control.
Senators from the bipartisan delegation comprising members of the Senate Homeland Security and the Governmental Affairs Committee in El Paso have given dismayed accounts of what they observed as they accompanied Alejandro Mayorkas to the southern border.
I respectfully ask US Customs and Border Protection to stop blocking media access to their border operations. I have photographed CBP under Bush, Obama and Trump but now - zero access is granted to media. These long lens images taken from the Mexican side. @CBP #gettyimagesnews pic.twitter.com/cWa90TlfeS— John Moore (@jbmoorephoto) March 19, 2021
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) witnessed hundreds of children “packed into big open rooms” and “fought back tears”.
2/ The desperation these kids and families are fleeing is hard to describe. The memory of that 13 yr old girl will be w me forever. So long as conditions are abysmal in places south, people will find a way to get here, no matter how high the wall is or how many border agents.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) March 19, 2021
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) decried the spike of minors “a tragedy,” writing on Twitter that “swift action” was required. “Swift action needs to be taken NOW to end this humanitarian crisis,” she said on Twitter.
The surge of unaccompanied children at our southern border is a tragedy.— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) March 19, 2021
Swift action needs to be taken NOW to end this humanitarian crisis. pic.twitter.com/LjZXtYmsYv
Plug Pulled on ‘Trump-Era’ Policies
This comes as on 18 March the House of Representatives passed bills seeking to create an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US prior to 1 January 2021.
Some Republicans warn this will bring about a “return to the radical left-wing policies that will incentivise illegal immigration and promote an unending flood of foreign nationals into the United States.”
In February, Joe Biden terminated Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, requiring the asylum seekers to stay on native soil while US courts reviewed their claims.
After having campaigned on a vow to overhaul his predecessor’s tough immigration agenda, Biden halted construction of the Mexico border wall and issued an order affirming the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme. The latter gives work permits and protection from deportation to people brought illegally to the US as minors.