The Trump administration monitored the separation of more than 5,500 families – and the parents of more than 600 children have still not been found. Immigrant advocates want relief for these families, but they also want accountability for Trump officials.
“If the administration fails to take steps to reunite these families and compensate for the damage, the public will hear about them in six months, 12 months, 18 months,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy on Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
“This is something that needs to be resolved,” said Jawetz.
People near the White House say Biden and senior administrators know the task force is just a start. Both privately and publicly, Biden officials said they would use political capital, energy and resources to find the parents of the still separated children, offer legal status and support to all affected families, and urge changes to U.S. immigration law to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Biden is also expected to announce executive action focused on refugee resettlement and asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border. His efforts to reverse Trump-era politics will take time as the former president took more than 400 immigration-related executive actions without input from Congress.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s election as Head of Homeland Security, will oversee the task force, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Friday. Handing over responsibility to Mayorkas – a DHS veteran and architect of the Child Arrivals Delayed Action Program – is a clear sign that reunification will be a priority for the Biden administration.
The task force’s launch was originally scheduled for Friday but has been delayed as Senate Republicans dragged Mayorkas’ approval process, claiming “there are a number of problems” with his nomination. A confirmatory vote is now scheduled for Monday afternoon, clearing the way for Biden to announce the task force and a number of other immigration-related measures on Tuesday, Psaki said.
Republicans have been quick to criticize Biden’s immigration agenda, with some arguing that it encourages more illegal migration and is “open borders.” However, much of Biden’s bill on immigration reform focuses on “Intelligent” border surveillance. Some conservatives and anti-immigration advocates said family separation was wrong, but they argue that the parents broke US law and put their children at risk.
The task force will include officials from DHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of State, according to those familiar with the discussions.
The plight of migrant children is of particular concern to First Lady Jill Biden and her chief of staff, Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, who will be “closely following” the process of federal reunification, Psaki said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Thursday night. Biden and Reynoso visited a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico in December 2019, Psaki added.
Reuniting the 600 children with their missing parents is only part of a very complicated puzzle, said immigrant lawyers and attorneys.
“We will be very disappointed when the [task force]… does not address the thousands of other families who have been separated and need help, “said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s national immigration law project.
Learned and other proponents, however, so far have been optimistic that Biden’s task force will have a broader mandate.
“I expect the Biden government to do everything possible to help these families and to do as much as possible to remove the moral stain that this means for our country,” said Learned, who said in the case of the ACLU represented separate families.
Part of Biden’s announcement on Tuesday could include plans to allow the families who were separated and then deported to return to the United States. Biden will also offer government resources to organizations already working to find the missing parents.
“I am confident that we will ultimately find the families,” said Gelernt. “But only the government can reunite the families and give them legal status in the US.”
The ACLU wants the Biden administration to allow families separated under the Trump administration to settle in the US and give them legal status. This is a step that Learned finds relatively easy as the Biden government has the authority to “release” the families to the United States. The ACLU also wants the government to set up a fund to support families with basic needs such as psychological counseling and medical support. Family separation irreparably harms children’s short-term and long-term health. according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Biden administration last week, in a largely symbolic move, overturned the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, according to which adults who entered the United States illegally with children should be prosecuted by the Justice Department. First announced in April 2018, the policy resulted in the separation of thousands of families, including families with young children. In June 2018, Trump signed an executive order to end this practice after widespread outrage. However, he never officially repealed politics.
The Task Force is not expected to deal with potential investigations and criminal cases against officials involved in the implementation of the Directive. However, some lawyers said they would like Biden to encourage the Justice Department to investigate and assess whether legal action should be taken.
Earlier this month, a report from the Inspector General of the Justice Department found that then Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior Justice Department officials had a zero-tolerance policy that was aware that it would forcibly divide families up and be unprepared for the repercussions. DHS and HHS have issued similar reports outlining the introduction and adverse effects of the directive.
Meanwhile, progressives and advocates of immigrants are calling on the Biden administration to push for a more permanent legislative solution by repealing Title 13 section 1325 of the U.S. Code, which makes illegal entry into the U.S. a federal crime. This piece of US immigration law, which received a lot of attention during the campaign thanks to Julian Castro, enabled the implementation of a policy such as “zero tolerance”. If canceled, illegal entry would still be a civil offense that could require payment of a fine but is less of a criminal offense.
Almost 40 Democrats, including MPs Chuy García, Ayanna Pressley and Pramila Jayapal, Laws were reintroduced last week that would repeal Section 1325 and implement other decriminalization measures illegal migration. However, proponents and lawmakers who have spoken with representatives from Biden say the former Vice President’s team never endorsed the repeal.
“As America begins a new presidential administration,” Jayapal said in a statement backing the bill, “we must finally leave our country’s long history of criminalizing immigration and segregating families behind us.”