The Biden administration anticipates that it will be releasing 400 migrant families into the country a day by mid-June as the influx of people encountered illegally crossing the border overwhelms its detention capacity, according to a government planning document.
The 400 figure is eight times greater than the 50 families that Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were releasing from its facilities each day early on in 2021. As of mid-March, Border Patrol agents were seeing 500 people arrive as part of a family group per day.
“The number of individuals enrolled in the ICE Alternatives to Detention program has increased from 50 per day to 200 per day in March 2021,” an ICE document states. “Within 90 days, the enrollment is projected to double to 400 per day. It is because of this unusual and compelling urgency that the Government requires the [emergency family reception sites] to meet the critical mission requirements of housing, feeding, transporting, and providing medical attention to these thousands of asylum-seeking families along the southwest border.”
Only the head of family is enrolled in ICE’s programs that track people after they are released or paroled into the country, so the total number of migrants released is at least two times higher than the 400 figure because each family has at least two people.
In the final months of 2020, the number of people who were intercepted at the border hovered around 75,000 per month. By February, the first full month that President Joe Biden was in office, that monthly number had grown to more than 100,000. In March, the number of families, adults, and single children showing up at the border spiked to 172,000.
“DHS is seeing an increase in irregular migrant flows to the southwest border of the United States, including greater numbers of family units and unaccompanied children,” the document states. “The projected encounters for fiscal year (FY) 2021 are expected to be the highest number observed in over 20 years.”
Numbers rose as migrants anticipated friendlier asylum policies under the Biden administration. After taking office, Biden ordered the Border Patrol no longer to turn away single children immediately who cross the border alone. At the same time, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas blocked the U.S. from returning families as the U.S. had been doing since March 2020 in an effort to avoid detaining people during the pandemic. The majority of families and all non-Mexican children are not being removed from the country, but most single adults continue to be removed.
The surge has complicated the Border Patrol’s ability to hold people and then either return them to their home countries or hold them in custody. Health and Human Services signed a $530 million no-bid contract for Texas-based nonprofit Family Endeavors to hold unaccompanied children, while ICE also awarded the nonprofit organization an $87 million no-bid contract to house families in seven hotels before they are let out of federal custody.
The dramatic increase in releases of families within the U.S. is not expected to affect any specific region or city. For example, those who come across the border in South Texas will likely be transferred to regional ICE facilities in Karnes County or hotels across Texas, then allowed to travel anywhere in the country.
Families typically travel to places where they have friends and family already living, oftentimes large cities or states that are considered sanctuary zones where police do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. ICE legally cannot hold families in its custody for more than 20 days, which is not enough time for immigration claims to be decided by a judge, so people are released and told when to show up to court down the road. In that period, they may seek asylum in order to avoid being returned to their home country.