President Biden ran on a campaign vowing to bring humanity to the immigration system. After four years of the Trump administration targeting immigrant communities, the promise of an immediate reversal of its harmful policies was a breath of fresh air. However, the Biden administration has so far seemed unwilling to make good on this promise. The administration’s contrasting stance on immigration detention and parole highlights the dangers of a “middle-of-the-road” policy approach. 

Last week, Axios reported that the Biden administration was “reinventing” migrant detention through the expanded use of alternatives to detention (ATD) programs. ATD programs are supervised parole programs that use a combination of case management practices including “face-to-face and telephonic meetings, unannounced home visits, scheduled visits with a case manager, and court and meeting alerts.” 

Simultaneously, the administration argues that it should not be required to provide bond hearings for immigrants in detention. This appears to be an attempt to balance fulfilling its campaign promises to end private detention while combating the “catch and release” narrative. These decisions are a perfect example of Biden’s middle-of-the-road strategy: providing a win and loss to both sides of the issue. It aims to release migrants, while still restricting their freedom.

Taken individually, Biden’s actions on immigration issues might be accepted as an improvement over the previous administration’s policies. There are negative consequences to using ATD programs instead of traditional parole programs, although these consequences are considerably less severe than those of prolonged detention. However, the overlapping actions continue to face criticism from both sides. Immigrants’ rights organizations decry the expansion of ATD programs for moving private detention practices out of prisons and into homes, and states continue to combat the administration releasing  immigrants from detention. 

After four years of an almost complete dismantlement of immigrant protections, settling for compromise is especially unsatisfactory. By focusing on this middle-of-the-road approach, President Biden is leaving his immigration policy stagnant and failing the immigrant communities he vowed to help. The administration should be focused on truly “reinventing” detention by putting structures in place to create and sustain a fair and just system.

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