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Border & Immigration Update: Teens Talk About Life In Migrant Shelter; Biden Lifts Trump-Era Refugee Cap

A section of border wall, made out of tall steel slats, is pictured at sunset.
Eric Gay
Associated Press
Authorities pass a border wall construction site, in Mission, Texas, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.

Here’s a rundown of immigration and other news from the Texas border and beyond. Look out for a weekly recap from reporters at Texas’ public radio stations.

Migrant Teens Share Experience At Emergency Shelter

Two migrant teens who were temporarily housed at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio said they were treated well during their stay, despite reports of abuse and neglect at the shelter, Texas Public Radio reports.

The coliseum is one of 10 emergency facilities set up by the Biden administration in Texas to shelter the record number of children and teens crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian.

Texas governor Greg Abbott previously called for the federal government to shut down the site, after leveling accusations that the teens sheltered there faced sexual abuse and mistreatment.

Meanwhile, NPR reports the number of migrant children and teens housed in “jail-like” Border Patrol holding facilities has dropped, as the government continues to open more temporary shelters and transfer children out of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody and into the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But challenges remain, including finding enough staff to run HHS emergency shelters.

Biden And The Border Wall

Border activists and attorneys against border wall construction say President Joe Biden has broken his campaign promise of “not another foot” of wall, Texas Public Radio reports.

On Tuesday, a federal judge granted the government’s request to forcibly seize the Cavazos family’s land in Mission, Texas. The family had been fighting for years to keep their land, and hoped Biden would stick to his pledge to withdraw lawsuits against landowners.

Biden ordered a pause on border wall construction on his first day in office, as his administration conducted a 60-day review of how to tackle previous construction plans. However, the government has not yet shared what came of that review.

Biden Will Lift Refugee Cap, Reversing Course After Outcry

Late Friday, Biden reversed course, deciding to lift the cap on the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. during fiscal year 2021 after facing blowback from advocates.

Earlier in the day, Biden had announced he would keep the refugee cap at 15,000, the historically-low level former President Donald Trump set last fall. On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to raise the number to 125,000 for the next fiscal year starting in October. Previously this year, he proposed raising the cap to 62,500.

The White House claims it has to rebuild the U.S. refugee admissions program, which was "decimated" under the Trump administration, and denies that the decision was motivated by concerns about political optics. The Biden administration has been criticized for its handling of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the process for migrants and asylum seekers at the border is entirely separate from the refugee admissions program, in which refugees fleeing war or persecution overseas go through a thorough vetting process to be admitted to the U.S.

Texas Sues Biden Administration For Ending 'Remain in Mexico' Policy

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration on Tuesday, calling for the federal government to reinstate the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. KERA News discussed the lawsuit with Texas Standard.

The controversial policy forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases played out in U.S. immigration court. Many ended up in squalid and dangerous living conditions, far from legal counsel.

Biden suspended the program on his first day in office, and is gradually allowing roughly 20,000 asylum seekers who were enrolled in the program and still have active court cases to enter the U.S., where they can continue their proceedings.

The lawsuit claims that President Biden’s decision to end the policy was “arbitrary and capricious” and has led to a “huge surge” of migrants at the southern border, placing a burden on the state of Texas. The suit is the latest in a series of legal challenges Paxton has brought against the Biden administration since January. A federal judge in Texas blocked Biden’s 100-day pause on deportations of some undocumented immigrants after Paxton challenged the order in court.

Also this week, the federal government announced that asylum seekers who had been returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) will start being processed to enter the U.S. at the Eagle Pass, Texas port of entry beginning the week of April 19. Asylum seekers are already being processed in Brownsville, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Laredo, Texas and San Diego, California.

Most migrants and asylum seekers are still being turned away or quickly expelled at the border under a public health order known as Title 42.

Border Communities Push To Improve Higher Education

Communities in the Middle Rio Grande area of the Texas border have grown increasingly frustrated with the state of higher education in the region, Texas Public Radio reports. Some feel the area is being neglected.

Now, state lawmakers are seeking to transfer management of Sul Ross State University and Rio Grande College from the Texas State University System to the Texas A&M System. Officials hope the change could bring more resources to and boost enrollment at RGC’s campuses in Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Uvalde.

Last week, the Rio Grande College faculty senate passed a resolution endorsing the legislative efforts.

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Updated: April 16, 2021 at 4:35 PM CDT
This story's been updated to include Biden's late Friday announcement that he plans to lift the cap on refugees, reversing course after he faced swift backlash from advocates. Earlier in the day, Biden decided not to lift the cap on the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. during fiscal year 2021.
Mallory Falk covers El Paso and the border for KERA as part of The Texas Newsroom, a regional news hub linking stations across the state. She is part of the national Report for America program, which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.