Over two years after the bill was first introduced, hundreds of children continue to remain separated from their parents. The steering committee that has been working to reunite families said in a court filing this month that it had made contact with the parents of an additional 61 kids, NBC News reported. “The lawyers believe that the parents of 302 children who have not yet been reached were deported to Central America, while the parents of 129 children are somewhere in the U.S.,” the report said. “The lawyers say the government has not yet provided contact information for the parents of the remaining 14 children.”
While the Biden administration announced that it would give families the option of reuniting in the United States if they wished, it made no guarantee of being able to give them permanent protections. “To the extent permissible under law, the Task Force will identify opportunities for families to pursue legal immigration status that best ensures their safety and stability,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. We can do better, and give these families certainty.
“While we will never fully right these wrongs, the Families Belong Together Act is critical legislation to begin addressing the harm our government inflicted on the families it separated,” said Yesenia Chavez, Policy Analyst for Immigrants’ Rights at the American Civil Liberties Union. Among families who would be provided with relief through the legislation would be Leticia Peren, an Indigenous Guatemalan asylum-seeker who was separated from her son for two years. There are countless other families who were also separated for lengthy periods of time.
In 2019, asylum-seekers Jose Alvizures and his then-10-year-old son Ervin were reunited after 324 days apart. That same year, Adelino and his then-7-year-old daughter Angie were reunited after 326 days apart. Also in 2019, when Yujany was on this way to be reunited with his then-3-year-old son Maikol after nearly six months apart, he expected the toddler to be overjoyed. Instead, the boy pulled away from him and cried.
“It took about five hours for Maikol to calm down,” CBS reported at the time. Several weeks later, “Paz-Rosa said his son is feeling better with him. But to this day, he's nervous around most people. Paz-Rosa said Maikol doesn't want to leave the house because he thinks someone is going to take him away.” CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez showed the clip to Dr. Lanre Falusi, who treats kids who have endured separation. “It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
The Biden administration’s task force’s statement of principles said that in addition to the option of reunification in the United States, the administration would also partner with nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to help families with transportation, mental healthcare services, as well as legal services, with expenses whenever possible “borne by government, NGOs, and the private sector—and never by the families.”
“KIND knows first-hand the intense suffering and life-long impact family separation has had on the families we serve and the children we represent,” KIND President Wendy Young said. “While we cannot give them back their lost time together, we can—and must—provide support services and a fair chance to make their legal case for U.S. protection.” In the statement, Blumenthal called the legislation “a critical first step towards righting the wrong of family separation.”
“My son and I are deeply grateful to Senator Blumenthal and Representative Castro for listening to the voices of families that were separated at the border and for introducing this proposal to change the lives of families like ours,” Peren said in the statement. “This legislation recognizes the pain and trauma families like ours have been through—and that we deserve the peace of mind of being able to live in the U.S. safely and together.”