Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasFederal officers detail abuse described by asylum seekers Senate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation Ending worksite raids is a show; focus should be on employer compliance MORE on Friday met virtually with seven parents who were separated from their children at the border under the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy.
The parents, from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, were reunified with their families through the Biden administration's Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families.
The meeting, organized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and advocacy groups, was also attended by task force Director Michelle Brané.
"The Secretary was clear in recognizing our responsibility," said Brané.
"He apologized to the families for what the government did and is dedicated to supporting them as they move forward with their lives, recognizing that the harm cannot be undone, and that some of the emotional scars will stay with them. He encouraged them to move forward and committed to helping them to do so," she added.
The parents asked Mayorkas and Brané to support other families affected by the short-lived Trump administration policy, including by providing legal pathways to remain in the United States.
“The government has the power to change the lives of asylum seekers like myself, and recognize the pain and trauma families like ours have been through by providing us with support. My son and I deserve green cards. We deserve the peace of mind of being able to live in the U.S. safely and together without the fear of being torn apart again,” said Leticia Peren, a Guatemalan mother who was separated from her son for more than two years.
"The Secretary was clear in expressing to the families that we have an obligation to support them and that we are doing everything we can to get them support, to look at ways of providing them with the permanent status. We may need legislative support for that. We're looking at all the options and are very dedicated to continuing to do so until we find a solution for these families," said Brané.
According to the meeting's organizers, Friday's conversation was the first time in history that a sitting Homeland Security secretary met with prospective asylum-seekers.
According to a readout of the meeting released by DHS, the officials committed to finding "a long-term status option for families and … efforts underway to ensure that family separations never occur again."
Along with Peren, Mayorkas and Brané met with Angela, a Guatemalan grandmother who was separated from her daughter and grandsons at the border, and later from her then-minor daughter as well.
Angela was twice deported and spent more than a year in detention, and denied communication with her daughter for more than three months.
"I’d like to ask the secretary to allow us and our children to be able to stay in the United States, because we are still in danger in our home countries. And to please help the parents who are still separated from their children,” said Angela.
“I know the intense pain of being separated from my children and I want all the parents to have the same joy I have at being with my family,” she added.
The officials also met Keldy, a Honduran mother who spent two years in immigration custody before being deported, Wilson, a Honduran father who was separated from his young son, Xiomara, a mother from El Salvador who was separated from her daughter in 2018 and only recently reunited, and Erendira, a Mayan woman from Guatemala who was separated from her 6-year-old daughter in 2018.
“I am here to fight so that mothers and fathers are never separated from their children in the future. The U.S. government needs to protect us and provide families asylum,” said Erendira, who is applying for asylum in the United States.
Updated: Aug. 21 at 10:30 a.m.