The acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said this week that a Mexican state through which many migrants travel into the U.S. stopped taking families with small children just days into the Biden administration — a move that contributed to the administration releasing families into the U.S.
The Biden administration has been dealing with a surge in migrants at the border, with more than 178,000 encountered in April alone, an increase from the already high numbers in March and February.
While it has been expelling single adults and migrant families via Trump-era Title 42 public health protections, it has repeatedly said it has not been able to expel some families with children under the age of 7 due to the refusal of Mexican officials to take them.
Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller told House lawmakers on Wednesday how a surge that would go on to overwhelm authorities in the Rio Grande Valley sector began just days after President Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20 – when Tamaulipas, a northern Mexican state, stopped accepting families with young children.
“The surge of family units began in the Rio Grande Valley on Jan 23 when Tamaulipas stopped taking back Northern Triangle families with tender-aged children under the age of 7,” he said.
Miller said that led to the situation in March when Border Patrol would not only release migrants but would release them without Notices to Appear in court — instead giving them a notice to report to their local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office.
“The situation on March 19, we encountered 2,439 migrants between the ports of entry in RGV alone,” he said. “We had over 2,600 unaccompanied children of which 1,943 were held over 72 hours in our soft-sided facilities.”
Giving families a notice to report rather than a notice to appear cuts down on paperwork and allows migrants to be processed and released quicker — relieving pressure on facilities and overwhelmed agents.
Miller said the agency also responded by shifting more than 400 agents to the sector, increasing virtual processing, activating a DHS volunteer force and moving migrants laterally to other sectors.
The Biden administration has come under fire for releasing migrants into the interior — something the Trump administration called “catch and release” and mostly ended. It has come under further criticism for releasing without NTAs, with Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., accusing DHS of shirking its responsibilities.
“Aliens are being released from DHS [Department of Homeland Security] custody without being issued NTAs and DHS is unreasonably expecting these illegal entrants to voluntarily report to ICE to receive a charging document and court date,” Biggs wrote to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday. “This is fatuous and an abdication of your statutory obligation.”
So far, more than 60,000 migrants have been released with either a notice to appear or an I-385, according to CBP data. On Wednesday, Miller said that while the processing time is lessened with a notice to report, the border and national security checks are still in place.
“This is essentially the same process that we perform during the NTA, same checks, collecting the same biographic and the same biometric information,” he said.
He also said that even those with NTAs are currently not being given a court date, only being given a “TBD” on their form where their date and time would go, because the Department of Justice is not currently holding non-detained immigration hearings. They are scheduled to resume in July.