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House Democrats urge Biden not to revive migrant family detention

Letter represents latest backlash to news reports that the Biden administration had discussed reinstating the Trump-era policy

Migrants, mostly of Venezuelan origin, attempt to forcibly cross into the United States at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 12.
Migrants, mostly of Venezuelan origin, attempt to forcibly cross into the United States at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 12. (Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and more than 100 other House Democrats raised “serious concerns” on Tuesday about the prospect of reviving migrant family detention, the latest to join a chorus of Democrats who have spoken out against the policy proposal.

Jayapal, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, and the other lawmakers urged President Joe Biden in a letter first obtained by CQ Roll Call to “maintain your commitment to not detaining families and children and not return to a cruel policy of the past.”

Instead, the Democrats called on the administration to invest more in case management programs that allow migrant families to pursue their immigration cases from outside of a detention center.

The lawmakers noted that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s family case management program, which was ended by the Trump administration, cost $36 per family per day, while family detention costs $319 per person per day. They also highlighted the psychological harms that detention can pose to children.

“We urge you to consider these important and proven alternatives to detention and reject resurrecting family detention,” they wrote.

The Democrats further encouraged the administration to continue programs that allow migrants to come to the U.S. legally, such as the recent so-called parole program that provides a legal pathway for migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. They called this policy “a good first step” but said “more can be done.”

Along with Jayapal, the letter was led by Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee; Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; Lou Correa of California, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee’s border security panel; David Trone of Maryland and Veronica Escobar of Texas.

The House Democrats’ letter represents the latest backlash to news reports that the Biden administration had discussed reinstating the Trump administration’s policy of detaining some migrant families together.

On Sunday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and more than a dozen other Senate Democrats — including Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer — similarly raised concerns about reports that the administration was considering reinstating family detention. They called on Biden to “learn from the mistakes of your predecessors and abandon any plans to implement this failed policy.”

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