Undocumented immigrants in custody up more than 50% under Biden

Uriel J. Garcia

On the morning of January 14, construction worker Juan Reyna said goodbye to his wife and two stepchildren in San Antonio and drove to Uvalde in his white Chevrolet pickup truck with a crew of five to perform home renovation work.

But Reyna and her team did not come to the site. Border patrol officers stopped them near Uvalde after someone called the nearby border patrol station to report a truck picking up “a group of illegal aliens”. The other men in the truck, whom Reyna said he did not know well before recruiting them for the project, attempted to flee the scene and were eventually arrested.

Officers found a gun and a magazine full of bullets in the truck, court records show; Reyna, 48, said the gun was not hers. Reyna and her lawyer say they don’t know who owns the gun.

Guadalupe Martinez, 33, and her children Kevin, 13, and Ashley, 9, at their San Antonio home.  Guadalupe's husband, Juan Reyna, has been held in a migrant detention center for 11 months.

Reyna, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and placed in the agency’s detention center in Pearsall, where he remained for 11 months as he fights government efforts to deport him to Nuevo León, the Mexican state. he left over two decades ago. He has not been charged with a felony.

An ICE spokesperson did not explain why authorities had kept him in detention for nearly a year, saying he “does not comment on pending litigation.” But according to Reyna’s attorney, ICE attorneys believe Reyna poses a flight risk and a threat to public safety due to a previous eviction and misdemeanor in 2000 in Dallas.

“I just want to be free and enjoy the time spent with my family,” Reyna said in a telephone interview from the detention center. “I feel sad because my wife is going through a difficult time and she does not have my support because I am on the inside.”

When President Joe Biden took office, he began to reverse some of the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies, including the 2017 policy note that immigration authorities arrest every undocumented person who ‘they find and accelerate the evictions. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States, including 1.6 million in Texas.

In February, the Biden administration issued an interim memorandum directing immigration officials to focus on the detention of undocumented immigrants suspected of terrorism or espionage, those who entered the country illegally after November 1. 2020 and those convicted of an aggravated crime. If a person didn’t fit into one of those categories, officers had to get approval from a senior official as to why the immigrant should be deported, according to the memo.

The note signaled to immigrant rights advocates that many undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for decades would not have to constantly fear deportation. This includes immigrants like Reyna, whose misdemeanor conviction in Dallas for solicitation of prostitution led him to voluntarily return to Mexico before crossing the border again shortly thereafter.

But advocates say that hasn’t been the reality since Biden’s inauguration.

“On questions like [immigrant detainees], we don’t see a ton of change, ”said César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, immigration lawyer and law professor at Ohio State University. “And we are coming back to some kind of pre-pandemic normalcy, rather than an abrupt departure from the Trump administration.”

As of October 1, 22,129 registered immigrants were in ICE detention centers, a 56% increase since Biden took office, according to statistics compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. , also known as TRAC. Overall, 75% of ICE inmates have no criminal record – ICE classifies someone as a convicted felon even though the crime is as trivial as not keeping a dog on a leash, according to analysis by TRAC.

Juan Reyna, his wife Guadalupe Martinez and their children, Ashley and Kevin, pose for a photo in December 2020 in San Antonio.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, the number of people held by ICE was 38,000, according to TRAC’s analysis. Just before Biden took office in January 2021, the number of inmates fell to 15,000, a drop of 60%. This downward trend continued through the first month of the Biden administration before the number of ICE inmates began to rise.

“We were hopeful that the Biden administration would at least very significantly limit or reduce the use of migrant detention,” said Reyna’s lawyer Kathrine Russell. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have happened at all.”

Biden gives advice, agents have discretion

The Biden administration’s interim memo was replaced in September with another memo, which went into effect Monday and gives ICE officers more leeway than in the previous memo. He says officers should also consider the impact that deporting an immigrant would have on the person’s family, but that doesn’t force officers to follow directions.

“Civil Immigration Enforcement Directives do not oblige to take or not to take action. Instead, the guidance leaves the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to the judgment of our [p]personnel, ”said the note, written by the secretary of the Department of Internal Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

“The reality is that it is only a piece of paper until it is transformed into decision-making in specific cases, by agents of the ICE,” said García Hernandez, professor of law. of the state of Ohio.

Sameera Hafiz, director of policy at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center – which is a national immigrant rights group that also offers legal training – said the Biden administration’s record on immigration was not not much different from Trump in some ways.

“So far, President Biden has not been bold on immigration matters, despite promises to the contrary. Instead, his administration seems to be content to use the model left by previous administrations, ”Hafiz said. “By ceding all political decisions on execution to ICE agents … the administration is on track to recreate the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement nightmares.”

“I have my whole life here”

Reyna has a court hearing on Friday that could end with a judge issuing a deportation order or setting aside her deportation order and allowing her to remain in the country legally. He said ICE officers repeatedly asked him to voluntarily agree to be deported, but he refused.

“I believe in God and I have faith in God, even though this ICE officer told me that I would be [in detention] longer, ”he said. “He asked me if I was ready to go back to Mexico. I told him no because I have my whole life here, my wife, my children and my job is here.

He said he crossed the border in 1998 and traveled to Dallas, where he found work as a welder and carpenter for a construction company that builds houses and apartments. He said his original plan was to work in the United States for a few years and save enough money to open a business in Mexico. But over time he said he got used to life in the United States.

His business moved him to San Antonio, where in 2015 he met Guadalupe Martinez, now his wife, at a Mexican restaurant where she worked as a waitress, and they married in 2016.

Martinez said that when Reyna called her to tell him that he had been arrested by the border patrol, “my world started to fall apart because he is the head of the family… prison? Why did I go to jail? has he been arrested? ”And I can’t find the words to explain to them what happened.

Her two children from a previous relationship had become very close to Reyna, she said. His detention caused them to develop an anxiety disorder that affected their schooling, according to a report by a psychologist who analyzed children’s mental health in November.

Her 9-year-old daughter “has grown from being a happy and motivated good student not to do homework, cry at school and fall asleep,” the report says, adding that her 13-year-old son says he feels restless and unable. to concentrate. “He has said repeatedly that they need Juan to make the family feel safe,” the report said.

Since Reyna has been in the detention center, he has become religious, he said. Each evening, he goes to Bible study, sings hymns with the choir, and makes rosaries for his fellow inmates. They created an unofficial support group, imagining reconnecting with their families in the United States or their home country, he said.

He talks to his stepchildren every night, he said. His stepdaughter keeps telling him that her “heart feels small,” he said, which is her way of telling her that she is hurting.

He said he told them, “Wait, have faith in God, who will be the one to let me out of here and give me a miracle.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texatribune.org/2021/12/02/joe-biden-ice-immigration-detention/.

The Texas Tribune is a non-partisan, member-backed newsroom that educates and engages Texans about state politics and politics. Learn more at texatribune.org.

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