The Biden administration on Friday resumed fast-track deportation flights to Central America following another spike in families crossing the border into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
The administration announced plans to resume the expedited removals on Monday, responding to building pressure on the White House to increase enforcement at the Southern border as the Covid Delta variant spreads in Texas and across the U.S.
“Families apprehended by Customs and Border Protection were removed via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Air Operations to their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras,” a statement from the Department of Homeland Security said. “The expedited removal process is a lawful means to securely manage our border, and it is a step toward our broader aim to realize safe and orderly immigration processing.”
The Biden administration has continued to use the public health order, known as Title 42, which was invoked by former President Donald Trump at the start of the pandemic to expel migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. Biden has declined to use Title 42 to deport minors crossing into the U.S.
The administration was expected to start phasing out its use of Title 42 this summer, beginning with allowing migrant families to seek asylum. But as the U.S. enters the next uncertain phase of the pandemic and returns to mitigation measures such as masks, the administration has delayed lifting the restrictions.
Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates have called on the Biden administration to ditch the Trump-era policy, saying its use is unlawful, inhumane and not justified by public health. The groups say migrants could instead be tested for Covid and isolated upon entering the U.S. to prevent the spread of the virus.
The White House’s announcement Monday that it planned to speed up deportations for families that could not be expelled under Title 42 infuriated advocates. Expedited removal has been used by Republican and Democratic administrations to allow border officials to expel migrants without a hearing before an immigration judge.
The administration’s move comes as Republican lawmakers criticized the White House’s handling of the border, with many blaming the Texas Covid surge on increased border crossings from Mexico.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order this week designed to restrict border entries in Texas. His order directed the state’s Department of Public Safety to stop and reroute “any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion of such violation.”
“The dramatic rise in unlawful border crossings has also led to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among unlawful migrants who have made their way into our state, and we must do more to protect Texans from this virus and reduce the burden on our communities,” Abbott said in a statement Wednesday.
Border apprehensions for the fiscal year surpassed 1 million in June, according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. In June alone, more than 188,000 were apprehended at the border — a 21-year high.