After more than 11,000 migrants were caught crossing the southern border on Tuesday, the Biden administration is now preparing a memo that will direct Customs and Border Protection to begin releasing migrants into the U.S. without court dates or the ability to track them, according to three sources familiar with the plans.
The Biden administration began releasing migrants without court dates to alleviate overcrowding in March 2021, but had previously enrolled those migrants in a program known as Alternatives to Detention, which required them to check in on a mobile app until they were eventually given a court date. The new policy would release them on “parole” with a notice to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office but without enrolling them in the program.
The more than 11,000 border apprehensions in a single day is a record and surpasses expectations of 10,000 per day predicted by Department of Homeland Security officials on what could come when Covid restrictions lift late Thursday.
“We’re already breaking and we haven’t hit the starting line,” one DHS official told NBC News, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the person isn't authorized to talk to the media.
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Speaking at a news conference just before noon, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the migrants who will be affected by the policy represent “a fraction of the people that we encounter.”
"In fact, the vast majority will be addressed in our border patrol facilities and our ICE detention facilities," Mayorkas added.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said he estimates that 60,000 to 65,000 migrants are in northern Mexico waiting to enter the U.S.
"We are not in a position where we can ATD everyone," he said, using an acronym for the program that allows the authorities to track migrants released into the country. "I would like to."
A DHS spokesperson said the new policy will apply only to migrants who have been carefully vetted.
"As Republican and Democratic administrations alike have done in the past to protect the safety and security of Border Patrol agents and migrants in the event of severe overcrowding conditions, U.S. Border Patrol sectors may consider releasing certain migrants who have undergone strict national security and public safety vetting to continue their immigration processes," the DHS spokesperson said.
“This may include processing migrants for parole to reduce the amount of time they spend in custody. Each parole will be considered on an individualized case-by-case basis, and individuals who are released will be required to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and undergo removal proceedings in immigration court. Individuals may be placed into an Alternatives to Detention program to ensure compliance, if deemed appropriate. The targeted use of parole will allow Border Patrol to focus its resources most effectively to quickly process and remove individuals who do not have a legal basis to remain in the country.”
The restrictions, known as Title 42, have turned back migrants choosing to seek asylum more than 2.5 million times since the policy was enacted in March 2020. The Biden administration is set to lift Title 42 at 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday, allowing more migrants to enter the country and be screened for a potential asylum claim. The policy shift is expected to draw more migrants and slow down processing times for migrants in Border Patrol custody.
Already, Customs and Border Protection processing centers are holding more than 27,000 migrants, according to the two sources familiar with the numbers, far higher than the roughly 18,500 the facilities are equipped to hold.
The decision to begin quickly releasing migrants in centers that are over capacity is designed to alleviate overcrowding in them ahead of what is expected to be a greater surge when Title 42 lifts.
“It’s a public health danger. We will start having people die,” the DHS official said about the overcrowding problem.
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.
CLARIFICATION (May 10, 2023, 8:40 p.m. ET): The headline on this story has been updated to clarify that the new policy applies to some but not all migrants due to overcapacity ahead of the lifting of Title 42.