The Biden administration will allow families separated at the southern border by the Trump administration to reunite and remain in the U.S., the White House announced Monday.
“We are hoping to reunite the families, either here or in their country of origin. We hope to be in a position to give them the election. And if, in fact they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States, and to address the family needs,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasTop officials turn over Twitter accounts to 'share the mic' with Black cybersecurity experts Federal officers detail abuse described by asylum seekers Senate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation MORE said at a press briefing.
“We are acting as restoratively as possible.”
Under former President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE’s family separation policy, some 2,800 families were separated in 2018. While some were reunited, another 550 children were not reconnected with their parents under the prior administration.
Mayorkas, head of the family reunification task force established by President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege The No Surprises Act: a bill long overdue MORE, said his administration has thus far reunited 105 families.
Immigration advocates have argued that the Biden administration needs to not only just reunite families, but also seek to compensate those harmed under the Trump administration.
“We applaud Secretary Mayorkas’ commitment to remedy the torture and abuse of families who were separated from their children in immigration proceedings. Of course, 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," American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement, comparing Trump's "zero tolerance policy" that resulted in the separations to Japanese American internment during World War II.
Mayorkas, however, was slim on specifics about what legal pathway would be offered to families who choose to remain in the U.S., leaving unclear what sort of work authorizations might be granted.
"We are going to be discussing what can we do under the law because remember, we must address the needs of each family member in an individualized way, each family unit in an individualized way, in accordance with the law," he said.
"Our overarching goal is, of course, to be as humane as the law provides, to be as restorative as the law enables us to be to bring justice to these families."
Advocates have pushed for broad assistance to families that were impacted by Trump's policy.
“We should have a legislative solution to allow families impacted by zero tolerance to remain in the U.S. They should be offered a path to permanent status given what they've been through,” said Jorge Loweree, policy director of the American Immigration Council.
Such an aspect could be tucked into Biden’s immigration legislation currently working its way through Congress, though the bill has already elicited significant pushback from Republicans.
The White House was also not clear if the policy would be offered to those already reunited with their children.
“Reunification needs to happen as soon as possible but we also need to consider working to address the significant harms that the government has imposed on all the families that were impacted by the policy previously,” Loweree said, adding that “there is long term and enduring damage that many children and parents will have to deal with, possibly for life” as a result of separation.
Mayorkas also announced Monday that Michelle Brané, who most recently directed the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, would serve as the executive director of the task force.
—Updated at 2:47 p.m.