McALLEN, Texas — Despite the Biden administration's stated policy of sending migrants who arrive as part of a family back across the border into Mexico, Customs and Border Protection is releasing more families into the U.S. because neither Mexico nor U.S. can process them.
In February, nearly 60 percent of families arriving at the southern border were allowed to stay in the U.S., compared to 38 percent in January, according to data from CBP.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attributed the rise in a statement earlier this week to Mexico's inability to take back the number of families the U.S. is seeking to expel under an authority enacted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Mexico's limited capacity has strained our resources, including in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas. When Mexico's capacity is reached, we process families and place them in immigration proceedings here in the United States," Mayorkas said on Tuesday.
The reason more are not being detained in the U.S., an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said, is that the agency simply doesn't have the manpower or time to process them given the current surge at the border. The U.S. has detention centers designed to hold up to 3,000 immigrants, and as of last week roughly 450 were being held — meaning space is available — but the issue is the volume of migrants, not space, according to the official.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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According to community leaders in McAllen, Texas, those able to stay in the U.S. have children under the age of six and are coming through the Rio Grande Valley. That's because Mexico is refusing to take back families with children under six on that stretch of the border.
"[It is] not because the [Biden] administration is welcoming them, but because Mexico is not taking them back," said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who has seen hundreds of families pass through her shelter in McAllen each day after being processed and dropped off at a bus stop by U.S. authorities.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said his city is seeing a lot of young children arriving with their parents.
"What they're allowing in is family members with a child six years or younger. So you're lucky if you if you have that, that's the families being dropped off at our location," Darling told NBC News.
The Mexican government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.