One-on-one with White House immigration adviser: Family reunifications, expulsion of Mexican minors

Immigration

A young migrant waits for his turn to take a shower at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, Pool)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Implementing new immigration policies while also retaining some Trump-era policies has created successes and challenges for the Biden administration.

The first migrant family reunifications under President Joe Biden are set to take place this week but the administration continues to repatriate unaccompanied migrant children.

U.S. immigration authorities are enforcing Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health order allowing the rapid expulsion of unauthorized migrants, including some families with small children, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“Look, we continue to be in a global pandemic and therefore we’re continuing to enforce Title 42,” White House assistant press secretary and immigration adviser Vedant Patel told KTSM during a one-on-one interview on Tuesday.

The White House is taking a whole government approach to improve immigration policies and processes, which are being complicated by the volume of migrants seeking entry into the U.S., the pandemic, and capacity issues that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities.

Change is coming slowly but surely.

“A month ago, children were spending an average of 133 hours in CBP stations,” Patel said. “Today that number is down to 30 hours.”

The Department of Homeland Security shares daily reports on unaccompanied migrants children, including apprehensions, transfers, and discharges that confirm duration time has been significantly reduced. 

One caveat is that the figures do not include children from Mexico, who the report says will be repatriated to Mexico and not remain in CBP custody.

In an email to KTSM, CBP spokesman Roger Maier said: “Unaccompanied children are not returned to Mexico but rather processed by CBP and remanded to Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.”

However, hundreds of unaccompanied Mexican migrant children have been expelled from the U.S., something Patel says aligns with the current directives.

“The policy right now for Mexican unaccompanied minors is for them to be repatriated through that process, and I don’t have anything additional to announce on top of that,” he said.

On Tuesday, a CBP official confirmed to Border Report that Mexican minors are being repatriated in consultation with their consulate, a process is separate from Title 42. The official said Mexican children who cross the border alone are interviewed by their consulate and their return to Mexico is coordinated with Mexico’s National Migration Institute.

The administration is discouraging migrants from pursuing the treacherous journey north to enter the U.S. through El Paso while trying to mitigate damage by reviving former policies.

“That’s why you saw us restart the Central American Migrants Program a few months back as just one of the tools in our toolbelt to address this challenge,” Patel said. 

The administration pivoted from Trump-era policies like family separation and “zero-tolerance” in favor of creating is a fair and orderly immigration process, he said. 

“Make smart and strategic investments in the border, things like enhanced surveillance and technology, upgrade our ports of entry to bring our immigration system into the 21st century that includes an earned path to citizenship,” he says. 

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.