The Biden administration is not planning “at this time” to restart family immigration detention, a senior U.S. immigration official said on Tuesday, signaling the contentious practice to more quickly deport families is on hold.
Tae Johnson, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said officials had discussed jailing families as an option for dealing with increased illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, took office in 2021 promising to reverse many of the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump. The Biden administration said in early 2022 that it was repurposing family detention centers, which Trump had tried to expand.
“At this time, there’s certainly no plan to restart family detention in any way, shape or form,” Johnson told lawmakers during a budget hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.
Reuters and other news outlets reported in March that officials were considering resurrecting family detention in preparation for a possible rise in crossings after the expected end of COVID-19 border restrictions on May 11.
Democrats and immigration advocates criticized the idea of restarting family detention, saying it could cause psychological trauma to children and did not serve as an effective deterrent to illegal border crossings.
ICE would instead use “alternatives to detention” to monitor parents or heads of households, Johnson said. The agency is also weighing a pilot program similar to house arrest, he said, a plan Reuters reported last year.
ICE has identified nine detention centers that it could use for faster initial asylum screenings, Johnson said.
The Biden administration said earlier this month that it also would begin testing sped-up asylum screenings for migrants in the custody of U.S. border authorities.