For several months, US authorities have placed families who had recently crossed the border into South Texas on planes and transported them to El Paso and San Diego to be deported to Mexico from those locations. This policy was intended to circumvent the Mexican government’s refusal to accept Central American families with young children in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the busiest area for illegal crossings.
CBS News spoke to several Central American parents who crossed the Texas border with children as young as 2 years old and attempted to seek asylum in the United States. They said they were held at border patrol facilities for days before being airlifted to San Diego, where US officials deported them to Mexico.
The thefts had been heavily criticized by advocates for migrants and asylum seekers, who argued that the policy undermined the public health justification behind the deportation policy known as Title 42. The Biden administration has said the Trump-era ordinance allowing deportations was necessary to keep migrants from government detention facilities and potentially spread the coronavirus.
Lawyers said the fact that the families were held in border patrol detention facilities with other migrants, then placed on buses and planes, defied the rule’s stated purpose. from Headline 42. In a call with reporters on May 4, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CBS News he was “closely examining” cross-border flights.
Despite the disruption of flights, US officials said they could still deport families with children to Mexico without allowing them to seek asylum.
“The border is not open and CBP is still operating under Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic. CBP is doing its utmost to adhere to CDC guidelines and mitigate long periods of treatment and detention to minimize exposure to our workforce, those in detention and the community, ”said the agency in a statement to CBS News.
Some families encountered in the Rio Grande Valley are still transported to Laredo, Texas, and deported to Mexico from there, CBP said. Some families who crossed into the United States near Yuma, Arizona, are transported to San Diego, some of which are deported to Mexico, the agency said.
“Several border patrol sectors have seen an increase in encounters. In order to treat individuals in the safest and fastest possible manner, other areas along the southwest border are assisting in dealing with these matters at their facilities, ”CBP said in its statement.
Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs the largest shelter for migrant families in South Texas, said many families she met in that area had been transported by U.S. officials to Laredo in recent days. She said some are deported to Mexico from there, while others are released to local shelters, noting that the Mexican government has a daily eviction cap.
In President Biden’s first three full months in office, US authorities along the border with Mexico summarily deported more than 48,000 migrant parents and children traveling with families under Title 42 authority, government data shows. . At the same time, however, the Biden administration turned back a smaller percentage of families crossing the southern border than did the Trump administration.
In April, for example, 65% of parents and children traveling as a family were treated under regular immigration laws and were allowed to seek refuge in the United States. Most of these families are released to local communities and shelters, where they are tested for the coronavirus before boarding buses and planes for their respective destinations in the United States.
Besides Mexico’s reluctance to accept families with children six and under in Tamaulipas, Biden administration officials said some families were exempt from the Title 42 process due to medical conditions and other “acute vulnerabilities.” “.
CBP did not explain why it had cut cross-border flights, saying only that the decision was made “on the basis of operational needs.” However, the policy change comes as the use of Title 42 authority over families with children continues to be the subject of ongoing negotiations between the Biden administration and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a complaint in January aimed at stopping the evictions. .
In February, the ACLU agreed to suspend its trial on behalf of migrant families to negotiate with the government. Since then, the two sides have agreed to repeatedly continue the suspension of the trial. However, no resolution has yet been found and the current break expires at midnight on Thursday.
Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead lawyer in the case, said his group remains concerned that families are being bused to different areas of the border just to be deported to Mexico.
“We are making progress in the negotiations to bring the most vulnerable families to safety through various means, but the resumption of litigation will ultimately depend on the administration giving us an acceptable end date for Title 42,” Gelernt said. at CBS News.