The Biden administration has reportedly penned thousands of illegal immigrant children in federal facilities following a massive surge of immigration at the southern U.S. border — a striking reversal from the anguished immigration rhetoric of the Biden-Harris campaign, which mourned it as a “national shame” when “children are locked away in overcrowded detention centers and the government seeks to keep them there indefinitely.”
Immigration officials are reportedly holding more than 3,200 migrant children, many of them in “facilities akin to jails,” according to the New York Times.
Multiple media outlets reported that many of the detained children were being held past the statutory deadline for such detainment, and in shelters that were originally built to house adults.
The detention crisis comes as border patrol agents have been contending with a major surge of illegal immigration activity along the southern border. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s most recent statistics, the U.S. Border Patrol logged 285,217 “encounters” at U.S. borders through January of fiscal year 2021. That’s roughly 70% of the total for all of fiscal year 2020 in just three months.
The Border Patrol claimed last week that the agency is on track to arrest a “record number” of immigrant sex offenders this year. Agents in Laredo, Texas, meanwhile, have multiple times this month apprehended over one hundred illegal immigrants over short periods of time.
Much of the surge is likely driven by immigrants hoping the Biden administration will show leniency toward immigrants seeking entry into the country and/or asylum. During his presidential campaign, Biden famously criticized the Trump administration’s relatively tough immigration policy, vowing a more compassionate approach to dealing with both legal and illegal immigrants.
The current mass detention of child immigrants, on the other hand, presents a sobering challenge to both the Biden administration and to immigration advocates who hoped for a major shift under Biden in how the U.S. deals with illegal entries across the southern border.
Critics have pointed out that Biden’s present policy differs from Trump’s in some ways. Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake defended the Biden administration from its critics this week by pointing out that, among other differences, Biden is not engaging in Trump’s controversial child-separation policy, which led to thousands of young children being separated indefinitely from their parents at the border.
Still, the Biden approach has met with some criticism from at least one politician who also opposed Trump’s methods. New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a vituperative critic of the Trump administration and its border policies, responded to the news of Biden’s child detention centers last month by writing: “This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay — no matter the administration or party.”
Ocasio-Cortez, however, does not appear to have commented on the Biden detention crisis since Feb. 23, suggesting the progressive icon may be less outspoken in opposition to mass detention of child immigrants under Biden than she was under Trump. The self-described democratic socialist famously claimed that Trump’s child detention facilities were literal “concentration camps.” At one point during her first campaign for the House of Representatives, she visited a migrant detention center and was depicted sobbing next to a road outside of the facility.
The crisis at the border has been so acute in recent weeks that the Biden administration was forced to reopen a much-criticized facility in Homestead, Fla., one capable of accepting over 3,000 children.
As a presidential candidate in 2019, now-Vice President Kamala Harris vowed to shut down the Homestead facility, among others, claiming the facilities employed “people who are profiting off the incarceration of children.”