The Biden administration’s task force to reunite families separated at the border under former President Donald Trump will allow those families to reunite and settle in the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday.
“We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin,” Mayorkas said at the White House press briefing. “We hope to be in a position to give them the election and, if in fact, they seek to reunite here in the U.S., we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States — and to address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible.”
It’s a significant step for the Biden administration as it seeks to undo the damage done by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which allowed U.S. officials to forcibly separate children from their parents at the border. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order creating a task force to reunite the remaining separated families, one of his signature campaign promises. But immigrant advocates and attorneys initially felt the task force as described fell short of what was needed for separated families.
More than 5,500 families were separated under the Trump administration, and Biden entered office with the parents of more than 600 children still having not been located.
So far, the task force has made headway in reuniting those families. Mayorkas said approximately 105 families have been recently reunited.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero was quick to welcome Mayorkas’ announcement, but cautioned that “the devil is in the details and Secretary Mayorkas has to shed all the caveats and qualifications around his announcement and follow through with everything that’s necessary to right the wrong.”
“These separated families suffered unfathomably because of what our government did, and we owe them restitution. This includes a permanent pathway to citizenship, care, and resources to help them,” Romero said.
The task force involves a coordinated effort between the U.S., governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as various non-governmental organizations, immigration attorneys and community groups. Michelle Brané, formerly with the Women’s Refugee Commission, has been selected to serve as executive director of the task force, Mayorkas said.
“This is not only an all-of-government but an all-of-society effort to do what is right,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas also used his turn at the White House briefing to outline why it will take time for the Biden administration to create a new system for handling migrant arrivals at the border. Currently, the vast majority of migrants arriving at the border are being immediately expelled under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule.
“We are not saying: ‘Don’t come.’ We are saying: ‘Don’t come now,’ because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process as quickly as possible,” Mayorkas said, adding that “we are working around the clock seven days a week.”
Read more: politico.com