Refugio del Migrante, a lesbian-run migrant shelter in Mexicali was destroyed in a fire on Friday morning. Though no one was injured in the fire, 152 migrants, including 22 minors, have been displaced without shelter. According to a local newspaper, the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit in one of the shelter bedrooms. The shelter was run by Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA), a group based in Mexicali serving LGBTQ+ people as well as other vulnerable populations.
Throughout the past month, Republican state governors have been sending or have committed to sending armed personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border, answering a mutual aid call from Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Doucey. These states now include South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, Ohio, Nebraska, and Florida. Arizona and Texas are also sending their own state officers to the border. It still remains unclear what duties these officers will be performing and whether or not they will have the ability to make arrests against unauthorized migrants; immigration enforcement remains strictly under federal jurisdiction.
The Biden administration announced a new policy which would prevent ICE from detaining or arresting people who are pregnant or nursing, or who had a baby within the previous year. Though immigration advocates have applauded the policy change, some worry about the longevity of this decision as it was made through an executive order and could be easily reversed by future administrations. Under the Trump administration, the number of pregnant immigrants in detention had increased dramatically, after an Obama-era policy, which called for their detainment only under extreme circumstances, had been overwritten. This new policy also does not apply to pregnant, nursing, or postpartum immigrants being held in CBP custody.
New data has revealed that the Trump administration had begun family separations in Yuma, Arizona, months before what had originally been reported. Under a program called the Criminal Consequence Initiative, Border Patrol agents began family separations as early as May 2017. This program also allowed for the prosecution of first-time border crossers, including parents who entered the U.S. with their families. The data available shows that 234 families were separated in Yuma between the months of June and December that year, though actual figures are most likely greater. Some of the families separated under this program still have not been reunited, four years later. In addition, the children separated in Yuma during this period were as young as 10 months old. Biden administration investigations on Trump-era family separations are finding that the scope and geographic breadth of the separations are much greater than was previously understood.
The Dolph Briscoe Unit, a state prison in Southern Texas, was recently emptied of over 1,000 prisoners to make room for migrants facing, but not convicted of, state charges. The empty prison is currently being staffed by nearly 150 guards, despite Texas’ prison system being dangerously understaffed. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has not made much clear in terms of when or how the facility will be fashioned into a migrant jail, and the prison is currently in a state of “maintenance mode” while officers become trained as jailers and state agencies what changes need to be made in order to house a non-prison population. This project seems to be a part of Abbott’s larger push to address what he has deemed a migration crisis, seeking alternative detention possibilities outside of federal jurisdiction.
The County of San Diego, UC San Diego Health, and the state of California successfully collaborated on an initiative which brought thousands of Mexican maquiladora workers across the border to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The program, which lasted multiple weeks and concluded last Friday, was able to bus 1,500 workers to the border every other day and ultimately vaccinated over 24,000 workers. This success paves the way for similar projects now being initiated in other border regions, including El Paso-Juarez in Texas and Nogales-Agua Prieta in Arizona.
The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that as many as 3,000 U.S. troops will be deployed along the southern border and will remain there until the end of September, 2022. This is a drop in numbers compared to the 4,000 troops that were approved to serve at the border during the 2021 fiscal year. These troops are made up of active-duty service members, as well as National Guard troops from nearly two dozen states, all working to assist Border Patrol with immigration enforcement. So far, the Defense Department has spent over $840 million on the mission.
The Biden administration announced on Friday that they are creating a new process which will allow immigrants who served in the U.S. military and were later deported to legally return to the U.S. DHS will be partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs to bring back deported military service members and veterans, as well as their immediate family members, and connect them with any benefits they are entitled to. This is part of a broader federal initiative to assist immigrant service members and their families.
The Biden administration plans to lift Title 42 in a massive border policy overhaul. Title 42 expulsions for migrant families should stop by the end of July. Once the public health order is lifted, those families that request asylum at the border will be allowed to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their case. Still, government officials plan to continue expelling single adults under Title 42 for the next few months, as they make up the largest population of those attempting illegal border crossings. The administration is also planning a phased reopening of nonessential travel ports of entry along the border this summer, which were also shut down due to the pandemic.
Despite Biden’s efforts to wind down MPP, 4,668 migrants are being categorically left out–those who went through the entire asylum process and lost their immigration case. Some advocates are questioning whether those asylum applicants had been given a fair hearing as immigration courts were shut down because of COVID-19, and virtual hearings presented difficult challenges, such as inconsistent or a lack of technological access. While the government is claiming that these applicants have already been given due process, lawyers on the ground say otherwise, claiming living conditions and the pandemic made it practically impossible to effectively engage in your own defense.
On Wednesday, Trump traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in a public event to accuse President Biden of neglecting national security when it comes to border enforcement. At least 31 Republican Congressional representatives attended the event, which had the makings of a miniature campaign rally despite his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. Trump’s visit to the border came as arrests at the southwest border had risen to the highest monthly levels in the past two decades.
Six emergency housing facilities in Texas and California are set to close in the coming weeks as the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. custody has begun to slowly decrease. This is a result of efforts made to expedite the process of releasing children to family in the U.S., as well as declining border apprehensions. The number of children held at emergency sites has also decreased.
On Friday, Vice President Harris made her first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, where she toured the El Paso central processing center, and spoke with border agents and migrant children. This trip comes in the wake of months of criticism from Republicans, as well as prior trips to Mexico and Guatemala. During her visit, she blamed the Trump administration for leaving the new administration in a tough situation, but applauding their own progress so far. Some activists expressed disappointment that her visit took place in El Paso, where far fewer asylum seeking families have been forced to wait on the other side of the border. Her trip also did not include a visit to Fort Bliss. Harris continued to reinforce the need to address the root causes of migration, including violence, corruption, poverty, and food insecurity.
The Biden administration has forced Border Patrol head Rodney Scott out of office, to be replaced by Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz on an interim basis. Scott published a statement on social media claiming he had received a letter offering him the option to resign, retire, or relocate, with no additional rationale on his removal. Many were surprised Scott had been allowed to remain in his position this long into Biden’s presidential term.
The Biden administration is scaling up its dismantlement of MPP, allowing those asylum seekers who had had their cases closed or removed in absentia to come to the U.S. to pursue their original asylum claims. Since February, around 12,000 migrants have been able to enter the U.S. with pending MPP cases, and this change in policy should greatly scale up the number of migrants allowed to pursue their asylum claims from within the U.S. Still, for many asylum seekers, this policy change comes far too late, many migrants under MPP being victims of rape, kidnapping, and assault. The Biden administration has been criticized for its slowness in dismantling MPP and restoring proper access to asylum seekers.
Testimonials from a court case on Monday revealed inadequate and unlivable conditions for migrant children being held in emergency shelters along the border. The testimonials described overcrowding, spoiled food, a lack of clean clothes, and an absence of mental health resources available for the children, many of whom are struggling with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. Some children have been held for months in these emergency shelters. Despite the Biden administration’s promises of a more human approach to immigration, many testimonials indicate that they are struggling to provide for these children’s most basic needs.
Nebraska joins Florida as the second country to agree to send state troopers to Texas to assist with border security and law enforcement. The two dozen state troopers will arrive in Texas later this month and stay for up to 16 days.
TRAC of Syracuse University released new data revealing a significant slow down in asylum cases being transferred out of MPP and over to U.S. immigration courts. During the month of May, only 1,988 cases were transferred out of MPP, which is down 55% from the 4,476 cases transferred out the previous month. It seems it is becoming more and more difficult to locate and identify the migrants living in border towns who should be allowed entry into the U.S.
The Biden administration has resumed lateral expulsion flights, transporting migrants crossing the border in high-traffic areas to lower density regions. This practice has been largely criticized by immigration advocates as many times immigrants are led to believe that they will be staying in the U.S., only to be dropped off in an unfamiliar area where they do not necessarily have any resources or connections. DHS had previously suspended lateral expulsions as a part of the ongoing negotiations over Title 42, and for now will only be placing single adult migrants on lateral flights.
On Wednesday, June 16th, Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed the Trump-era decision which prevented people from seeking asylum due to credible fear of domestic abuse or mass violence. This decision reinstitutes gang violence and domestic abuse survivors as a special social group which allows them to seek asylum in the U.S. This will affect thousands of migrants, as many domestic abuse and gang violence survivors have immigrated to the U.S. since 2013 and many of those cases are still being adjudicated.