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Immigration Policy Brief #123

Biden Administration Enables Task Force to Reunite Immigrant Families Separated during Trump Administration 

By Kathryn Baron

May 14, 2021

Policy Summary

The Department of Homeland Security will establish a Family Reunification Task Force with the mandate of reuniting families who were separated during the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy. The Task Force will be led by Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, and involve substantial interagency coordination with the Department of Justice (settlement negotiation efforts), the Department of State (system for processing in-country requests for travel documents to enter the US), and the Department of Health and Human Services (facilitate services and support for effected families). The Task Force is expected to deliver a  progress report  by June 2, 2021.

More than 5,000 children were separated from their families from July 2017 to June 2018. In March 2021, there were an estimated 5,700 unaccompanied children in US Customs and Border Patrol custody; the number has since decreased to just below 700.

Analysis

Who will be reunited and in what order largely correlates to ongoing negotiations in an ACLU federal lawsuit in San Diego, to stop the forcible separation of families and hold the US government accountable for its actions during the Zero Tolerance Policy era. So far, the Biden Administration has announced parents from four different families will be allowed to cross the US border and rejoin their children, after being deported to Central America and Mexico. The parents will return on a Humanitarian Parole while immigration authorities consider long-term options for legal status.

The Task Force will also attempt to establish a database of separated families, amend inaccuracies in their files, and build a comprehensive process to locate families and give them opportunities for reunification. In line with the restorative undertone of the Biden campaign, this method of transitional justice is crucial to any immigration reforms that may follow in the coming months and will ideally serve as the basis for restorative  justice in several sectors of the American political and justice system.

Engagement Resources

  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
  • The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
  • Center for Disease Control: the CDC provides updated information surrounding COVID-19 and the US responses
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Through the Department of Homeland Security’s website, this link provides additional information regarding the Obama era program.
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