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Top Democrats Warn Biden About the Border

Newsweek 3/27/2023 Nick Reynolds
President Joe Biden, with Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer (top-left) and Richard Durbin (bottom-left) © Anna Moneymaker/Chip Somodevilla/Mandel Ngan/Newsweek Photo Illustration/Getty Images President Joe Biden, with Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer (top-left) and Richard Durbin (bottom-left)

Nearly two dozen Democratic Senators are breaking with the White House's plans to reinstate a Trump-era policy to detain undocumented migrant families who cross the U.S. Southern border with Mexico as it continues to grapple with a spiking number of illegal crossings.

Facing heavy criticism of his administration's handling of the border earlier this spring, President Joe Biden's administration reportedly began reconsidering the revival of a policy he'd previously eliminated to detain migrant families for deportation, rather than allowing them to remain in the United States until their deportation papers had been processed.

Biden's proposal—once deployed by the Trump White House as a deterrent to migrants looking to cross the border illegally—was seen by many of the president's supporters as a reversal of a key promise Biden had made on the campaign trail as a candidate in 2020, earning him public rebukes from high-profile Latino politicians like onetime presidential candidate Julian Castro as well as many members of his own party in Congress.


In recent months, some have argued Biden's border policies have begun to resemble those of his predecessor, including fixes to physical barriers at the border some have equated to a wall as well as changes in policy that have come amid increasing pressure from the GOP majority in the House of Representatives for his administration to take action on the border.

Now some of the most powerful Democrats in Congress are publicly pushing back against him.

Over the weekend, a group of 19 Democratic Senators led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Whip Richard Durbin released a letter calling on Biden to reverse course, saying the policy once deployed by former President Donald Trump as well as his predecessor, Barack Obama, had a "disastrous effects on migrant families and children" without any corresponding improvement in border security or deterrence.

According to numbers from the Department of Homeland Security, the letter read, the detention policy actually corresponded with an increase in unique encounters of children and individuals in families by an average of 57 percent annually, with the total cost of the program eclipsing $866 million over the course of three years to detain approximately 3,000 families.

Continuing the practice would not just be expensive though, the senators argued: it would also be inhumane, noting that DHS' own experts concluded under two separate administrations that the agency's family detention centers posed "a high risk of harm to children and their families."

Instead, they argued the Biden White House should consider alternatives to detention such as the Family Case Management System currently in use by agencies like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which they noted had a 100 percent attendance rate.

"We understand that your administration faces significant challenges—particularly in light of Congressional failure to pass immigration reform—to manage an influx of asylum seekers at our Southern border," the letter read. "However, the recent past has taught us that family detention is both morally reprehensible and ineffective as an immigration management tool."

Newsweek has reached out to the White House Press Office for comment.

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