Did Biden cave to ICE mutiny?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo Feb. 18 with "temporary guidelines for...enforcement and removal operations" by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), giving ICE agents discretion on enforcement actions and essentially overturning the "100-day pause on certain removals" instated by President Biden's executive order of Jan. 20, his first day on office. Naureen Shah, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responded to the move in a statement: "The memo is a disappointing step backward from the Biden administration's earlier commitments to fully break from the harmful deportation policies of both the Trump and Obama presidencies. While the Biden administration rightly acknowledges that immigrants are our family members, our coworkers, and our neighbors, for now it has chosen to continue giving ICE officers significant discretion to conduct operations that harm our communities and tear families apart."

Litigation was already pending over the "pause." On Feb. 23, a federal judge in Corpus Christi granted a preliminary injunction blocking the moratorium, extending a temporary injunction he had issued Jan. 26. This was a victory for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had filed a lawsuit against the "pause." (Politico) Ironically, by the time of this ruling, the "pause" was already partially lifted by the new DHS memo.

Ominously, the "pause" was meeting with overt, defiant non-compliance from ICE. The New York Times decried in an editorial on Feb. 10 that the US is sending deportees rather than aid to crisis-stricken Haiti: "A plane arrived [in Port-au-Prince] from the United States on Monday. But instead of help or hope, it carried several dozen Haitians, including a 2-month-old and 21 other children, deported by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. President Biden had ordered a 100-day moratorium on such deportations, but a Texas judge temporarily blocked the order, prompting the agency to defy the administration's wishes and accelerate deportations. More such flights to Haiti are expected through the week."

A whistle-blower complaint filed on Feb. 1 charges that a top Trump DHS official sought to undermine Biden's new immigration policy by agreeing to hand effective control to the union representing ICE agents. An attorney at the Government Accountability Project filed the complaint with Congress, the DHS inspector general and the Office of the Special Counsel, which protects whistle-blowers. He attached copies of three "memorandums of understanding" signed by DHS official Kenneth Cuccinelli and union president Chris Crane. The memos were signed on Jan. 19, Cuccinelli's  last full day in office, granting "extraordinary power and benefits" to the union, including the ability to indefinitely delay changes to immigration enforcement policies and practices. The union, the National ICE Council, of course endorsed Trump for the presidency. (NYT, CNN)

The memos were supposedly approved by a union contract signed by the Trump administration, which Biden abrogated after the whistle-blower came forth. (The Hill

Cuccinelli's tenure as acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security and acting director of Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) was clouded by a federal court ruling last March finding that his appointment to the posts by Trump had been unlawful. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, an official temporarily filling a cabinet-level position before Senate confirmation must be next in the line of succession. Trump had apparently cut the line when appointing Cuccinelli in 2019 in order to have DHS under the de facto control of someone who shared his hardline anti-immigrant agenda. (NYT, NPR)

Detentions surge on southern border

The number of unaccompanied immigrant minors arriving at the US border with Mexico is on a steep rise, posing an early challenge to ambitious plans by President Joe Biden to loosen immigration rules. 

The number of unaccompanied minors referred to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency tasked with caring for them once they cross the border, climbed from 1,530 in October to 3,364 in December – a 120% jump, according to agency statistics released this week. January's numbers were not yet available.

The agency usually has 13,764 beds for the minors but only 7,971 are currently available because of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. Of those, around 5,200 are occupied, leaving 2,700 open beds, according to the resettlement agency. (USA Today)

The administration is still sheltering children separated from close family members in federal facilities for weeks on end—a practice immigrant advocates and attorneys had hoped the new administration would have ended by now.  As federal agents grapple with a rising influx of unaccompanied immigrant children, what to do with the children who come with an adult who is not their parent is becoming a rising concern.

The migrant children often arrive with a grandparent, older sibling or other relative but are separated until federal officials can confirm the accompanying adult is their relative, as required under US law. The procedure, which is different from the highly controversial Trump administration policy of separating immigrant parents from their children, is designed to protect minors from human traffickers and grant them legal protections.

But the new policy still classifies the youngsters as "unaccompanied minors" and places them in federal shelters until a sponsor or adult is vetted, a process that can take several weeks or even months. (USA Today)

In response to the new pressures, the administration has re-opened the ICE detention facility in Carrizo Springs, Tex., whch was closed in July 2019 in response to a drop in the number of arriving child migrants. It's important to note, however, that Carrizo Springs was considered a "model" facility, without the cage-like enclosures that sparked such outrage under the Trump administration. And, as stated, there is no policy of separating minors from their parents. (WaPo, APTexas Tribune