SAN DIEGO — The Biden administration has flown roughly 2,000 asylum seekers — all families with children — from Texas to San Diego and expelled them from the United States to Mexico without giving them a chance to request protection.
Tijuana has been receiving on average about 100 expelled people a day from the flights, according to the Mexican consulate in San Diego. Mexican immigration officials generally transport the families to migrant shelters. The primary shelter is currently filled with hundreds of parents and children.
The flights, which have not received much attention since they started in mid-March, mirrors strategies used by President Joe Biden's predecessor, former President Donald Trump, to try to deter people from coming by putting those who do come in difficult situations in Mexico.
Biden criticized Trump's "Remain in Mexico" program that required asylum seekers to wait in border cities like Tijuana during their U.S. immigration court cases that would decide whether they qualified for protection, and his administration has actively worked to wind it down. Asylum seekers in the program reported being kidnapped and assaulted while waiting in northern Mexico, where migrants are often seen as vulnerable targets for cartels and other criminal organizations.
But the expulsion policy, which began under Trump during the pandemic and is known widely as Title 42, puts Central American asylum seekers in the same places that Remain in Mexico did, though without any access to request protection in the United States.
Biden has taken the additional step of flying some families to San Diego in order to expel them to a city that is hundreds of miles from where they crossed into the United States. That is in response to increased crossings, particularly in east Texas, where the corresponding Mexican state of Tamaulipas has refused to accept some families back, especially if they have young children.
Some families that cross in that part of Texas are being released to loved ones in the United States because of the Tamaulipas policy. As word has spread that some are able to get in there, crossings increased in the Rio Grande Valley region, which was already historically a common crossing place.
"The border is not open and CBP is still operating under Centers for Disease Control guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic," said Jeffery Stephenson, an agent and spokesman with the San Diego Sector of Border Patrol. "CBP is making every effort to remain within CDC guidelines and mitigate long periods of processing and holding to minimize potential exposure to our workforce, those in custody, and the community. Once processing is complete, these individuals will be expeditiously transferred out of CBP custody."