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US can expedite removal of migrant families, Biden administration says

Asylum-seeking migrants departed on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry after being denied entry to the United States, as cars lined up to enter the US, on July 22, 2021 in Tijuana, Mexico.
Asylum-seeking migrants departed on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry after being denied entry to the United States, as cars lined up to enter the US, on July 22, 2021 in Tijuana, Mexico.Mario Tama/Getty

LOS ANGELES — The Biden administration announced late Monday that it would begin swiftly removing migrant families that immigration officials determined did not qualify for asylum after an initial screening at the southwestern border.

The policy, known as expedited removal, is a return to a measure that has been used by Democratic and Republican administrations to deter unauthorized immigration. Asylum officers interview families in a fast-tracked screening process to determine if they have a “credible fear of persecution.”

The Biden administration has been struggling to cope with an influx of unauthorized arrivals that shows few signs of abating.

“Expedited removal provides a lawful, more accelerated procedure to remove those family units who do not have a basis under U.S. law to be in the United States,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.

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Under an emergency order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the coronavirus pandemic, the Biden administration has had the authority to expel to Mexico any migrants who show up at the border without a visa.

But the government of some Mexican border states have refused to accept families with young children or those who have traveled from countries outside Central America, such as Brazil, Ecuador, India and Venezuela.

Human smugglers in recent months have funneled tens of thousands of families to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and to parts of Arizona and California — places where they are aware families will be admitted — because Mexican states such as Tamaulipas and Baja California are not taking them back.

Details of how expedited removal will be carried out were not immediately available, but it could potentially be applied to certain cohorts of families, depending on their country of origin or the age of the children, or along only certain stretches of the border.

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The announcement Monday drew a sharp rebuke from immigrant advocacy groups.

“Jamming desperate families through an expedited asylum process would deny them the most basic due process protections and can hardly be called humane,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the government to end the use of the emergency order, known as Title 42.

The lawsuit has not moved forward as the sides negotiate, Gelernt said.

In an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Title 42 allows the United States to immediately send migrants back across the border even if they wish to make an asylum claim. It is the main border policy from the Trump era that the Biden administration kept in place, although the current administration has exempted all minors who are traveling alone.

But thousands of families that Mexico would not allow to re-enter have been processed by the U.S. Border Patrol and released to shelters with notices to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or to appear in immigration court for a hearing. They are allowed to live in the interior of the country while their cases are adjudicated.

Advocates have hoped that the CDC would revoke Title 42, which they consider a tool used for immigration enforcement rather than for protecting the country from the virus. Critics say that quick deportations are especially problematic because they can lead to erroneous expulsions.

“The announcement we had been hoping for was about an end to Title 42,” said Linda Rivas, the executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. She added, “This administration continues to seek efficiency over safety and due process for migrant families.”

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As coronavirus infections from the highly contagious delta variant started to rise, administration officials and border officials began expressing concern that eliminating the public health order would encourage more migrants to make their way to the border.

In June, Border Patrol agents encountered 188,800 people, the highest monthly number in at least a decade. That brought to 1 million the number of border apprehensions in the first nine months of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Agents apprehended 55,805 family members and 15,253 unaccompanied minors in June, up from 44,639 and 14,158 in May. Just 14% of the families intercepted last month were expelled under the public health order.