Explainer: Biden pledged to reunite migrant families separated by Trump policies. What happens now? - Metro US

Explainer: Biden pledged to reunite migrant families separated by Trump policies. What happens now?

FILE PHOTO: A child embraces a woman as demonstrators hold signs against the Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border during a demonstration outside of City Hall in Los Angeles

(Reuters) – U.S. president Joe Biden is on Tuesday expected to announce a task force to reunify families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for Department of Homeland Security Secretary who still faces a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, would lead the task force.


In one of its most controversial policies to deter illegal migration, the Trump administration separated at least 5,500 migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The separations happened mostly in 2017 and 2018, because parents were being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or over concerns about their identities or criminal histories.

The blanket prosecution of border crossers, a practice known as “zero tolerance,” was officially announced in April 2018. Trump reversed himself in June after an international outcry.

Immigration attorneys and advocates, however, said children were separated before the official policy was announced and continued to be separated even after Trump ordered a halt to the practice.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, overseeing a case filed by the ACLU in the Southern District of California, ordered the Trump administration to reunify about 4,000 children with their families. But hundreds of parents who were deported without their children were not given the option of returning to the United States.

In addition, there are about 1,500 separated children who were not included in the judge’s reunification order because the U.S. government found the child might be in danger, according to the ACLU. But Lee Gelernt, the main ACLU attorney in the case, said those determinations were mostly based on inaccurate information or past crimes that did not merit such an action.


Almost all of the children covered by Judge Sabraw’s reunification order were eventually reconnected with their parents or released from government custody to sponsors, often family members, with their parents’ consent.

But attorneys and advocates are still trying to locate the parents of 611 children. According to the ACLU, parents of around 400 of the children have been deported and the remainder could be living in the United States. The government has failed to provide contact information for 18 of those children to the groups working on reunifications.


The ACLU is working with other non-profit groups to search for parents by phone. They have created a toll-free number for parents to call and have conducted in-person searches in home countries such as Guatemala and Honduras. But the coronavirus pandemic and safety concerns have limited their ability to conduct these investigations, according to a brief filed in the case this month.


Biden pledged to create a task force to reunify families that are still separated and White House spokeswoman Psaki says the first lady, Jill Biden, is committed to the project, although it is not clear what role she may play. Advocates have called for counseling and support for parents and children who were separated, the right for deported parents to return to the United States, and a legal pathway for people affected to stay in the country.

The task force will make regular reports to President Biden and plans to work across government and with representatives of separated families, as well as with “partners across the hemisphere to find parents and children separated by the Trump Administration,” according to a factsheet distributed to reporters Monday. It will focus on but not be limited to families separated under the “zero tolerance” policy, officials said.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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