Four parents from Mexico and Central America who were among thousands of migrants deported without their children under the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy will be allowed to join their children in the United States this week, said Sunday of US officials.
The parents, from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, will be the first families to reunite in the United States since the Biden administration began taking steps to unravel the 2018 policy that tried to deter families from try to enter the country by separating the children and parents.
Another 30 migrants are expected to be allowed into the country in 30 to 60 days to reunite with their children, who, like most others, live with relatives in the United States, according to two sources familiar with the projects. administration.
“These are children who were 3 years old at the time of the separation. These are teenagers who had to live without their parents during their most formative years, ”said Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary for internal security, announcing the imminent arrivals on Sunday.
The four women who are due to cross the border into Texas and California this week are among the parents of some 5,500 children who are known to have been separated under the zero tolerance policy officially introduced by former President Donald J Trump in the spring of 2018. While most families have been. reunited in recent years, more than 1,000 remain separated, mainly because a relative has been deported from the United States.
Mr Mayorkas said he could not provide details of the families for confidentiality reasons, saying only that two of the mothers were separated from their sons at the end of 2017, before the Trump administration had extended the policy to the entire southwest border.
Immigrant advocates and lawyers have welcomed the decision to bring a handful of relatives to the United States, but said more needs to be done to address the harms inflicted by the policy.
“We are pleased that the Biden administration has now taken its first steps to address the harm caused by the barbaric practice of family separation in the Trump administration and delighted for the four families who will be reunited this week,” said Lee Gelernt, lead lawyer in an ongoing course. – lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the policy in 2018.
“But we certainly don’t intend to take a victory lap at this point. It is not enough that these families are reunited, ”he said.
Mr Gelernt’s team, which is negotiating with the Biden administration to settle the lawsuit, have demanded financial compensation, mental health services and lawful permanent residence for all separated families, among others.
The family separation policy has been a key step in the steps taken by the Trump administration to crack down on unauthorized immigration. The purpose was to deter those hoping to come to the United States, a formidable roadblock that affected even families who could legally qualify for asylum from persecution in their home country.
The policy was first made public with a memo in April 2018. Later, it emerged that families had been separated as early as 2017 as part of a pilot program conducted near El Paso. In total, around 5,500 children have been separated from their parents.
Under the measure, border patrol agents charged parents with illegal entry into the United States, imprisoned them, and placed their children in government-approved shelters across the country. The footage and audio of children crying after being forcibly removed from their parents drew widespread condemnation.
In June 2018, a California federal judge ordered the government to overturn the policy and quickly reunite families, saying the practice “shocked conscience” and violated the Constitution.
Most of the families were reunited within a few months. However, around 1,000 families remained separated because a relative had been deported, and around 645 relatives – in the United States or overseas – still had not been contacted by the time Mr. Trump left office.
President Biden pledged from the start of his presidency to make the reunification of migrant families a top priority.
Weeks after taking office, he signed a series of executive orders intended to roll back Mr. Trump’s toughest anti-immigration policies. A central element of its first agenda was an inter-agency working group, led by Mr Mayorkas, to identify and reunite all migrant families separated at the border by the previous administration.
It was a gigantic undertaking. Contact details for many parents are out of date or unavailable, and some parents are missing or prefer not to be discovered out of fear. The task force was able to find around 200 of the remaining 645 parents, and it recently announced that it was looking at an additional 5,600 cases from early 2017 that may contain evidence of more separations.
“One of the things is we don’t know where these kids are yet. We’re trying like hell to figure out what happened, ”Biden said last week in an interview with NBC News.
“It’s almost like being a detective, and we always keep trying like hell to find out where they are,” he said.
Last year, a group of nine deported parents were allowed to enter the United States to join their children after federal class-action judge Dana Sabraw of the San Diego Federal District Court ordered their return. About ten others managed to return with the help of private lawyers.
But these efforts have met strong resistance from the Trump administration.
“Even with a court order, the return of the parents was vigorously fought at every step,” said Linda Dakin-Grimm, a Los Angeles lawyer who represented a Guatemalan father who returned last year. The man had been separated from his 12-year-old daughter.
She said the Biden administration’s decision to allow deported parents to the country marked “the start of a new path that is important. But there is still a huge lift to be accomplished. “
Mr Mayorkas did not disclose when other parents would be allowed into the United States to join their children, but said the arrivals this week would be the first in a long series.
“We are achieving reunifications without delay,” he said.
Michelle Brané, a veteran immigrant rights lawyer and executive director of the Biden Administration Task Force, said her team searched, often incomplete, files to piece together and review cases.
In addition to requests for legal residency and monetary compensation, some advocacy groups are calling on the Biden administration to consider bringing civil or even criminal charges against Trump’s White House officials who were in the office. origin of the design or implementation of the family separation policy. Asked about it on Sunday, Mayorkas said the Justice Ministry was part of the reunification task force, but it did not commit to further investigations. “We haven’t ruled out liability, but we are currently focusing on family reunification,” he said.
Parents arriving this week will be allowed to stay in the country at least temporarily on humanitarian parole.
Lawyers familiar with the process said parents would be allowed to stay in the country for at least a few years, or until longer-term solutions, like green cards, are explored. As a rule, people who enter the country have the right to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the country.