Legislation that would put separated families onto a path to legal status has already been put forth over the past several years. In reintroducing the Families Belong Together Act last year alongside Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Joaquin Castro called their bill the “bare minimum our nation owes the families who separated as an apology and a promise to do right by them.”
Nearly a year ago last May, Sandra Ortíz and her son Bryan Chávez were reunited by the Biden administration after more than three years of separation. Like many other parents, Ortíz had been unsure she’d ever see her son again after immigration agents cruelly told her he’d be put up for adoption. Following their reunification, Ortíz said Bryan had changed. “He looks sad. He’s not the same son I had,” The Washington Post reported at the time.
This family is deserving of justice, like a pathway to legal status, yet the Families Belong Together Act has failed to advance in Congress, including under a Democratic House where the Jim Crow filibuster doesn’t pose a challenge.
But it’s also an uncomfortable fact that despite the supportive statements from Mayorkas and Psaki this week, the Biden administration is sending mixed messages on family separation. While Biden as a candidate decried separations as “criminal” and as president said families “deserve” compensation, his Department of Justice last month asked two courts to toss out lawsuits filed by “zero tolerance” victims.
“It has argued in court that, despite the fact that the US has condemned the policy, the separations were lawful,” Vox reported. “In further arguments, the DOJ said affected families aren’t entitled to payouts from the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people who have suffered due to negligence or wrongdoing by the federal government to sue for financial damages.”
In a devastating blow, the Department of Justice had walked away from settlement discussions the month prior. This was all happening as the administration was also seeking public input on preventing future separations.
“The Trump administration’s family separation practice caused irreparable trauma to parents, children, and communities writ large,” American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Policy Analyst Yesenia Chavez said in supporting Blumenthal and Castro’s bill last year. “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.”
“These families must be reunited in the United States and provided citizenship, resources, care, and a commitment that family separation will never happen again,” Chavez continued. NBC News reports that about 130 families have been reunited under the Biden administration. Advocates estimate that as many as 1,200 families could still be separated. But even if every single family is located and reunited in the U.S., this doesn’t guarantee them permanent relief here.
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