Four families separated by the previous administration at the southern border will be reunited in the United States this week, the Biden administration announced on Monday. “Today is just the beginning,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “We are reuniting the first group of families, many more will follow, and we recognize the importance of providing these families with the stability and resources they need to heal.”
The Associated Press (AP) reports that two of the families expected to be reunited in the U.S. have been separated since late 2017. The families include children who were as young as 3 years old at the time of separation, while others were teens “who have had to live without their parent during their most formative years,” Mayorkas said in the report.
While it’s the Biden administration that’s allowing the parents—two of whom are Honduran and Mexican—to reenter the U.S. on humanitarian parole, NBC News reports that immigrant rights advocacy group Al Otro Lado (AOL) was largely responsible for facilitating the return of these parents. The organization “negotiated their travel visas with the Mexican government, paid for their airline tickets and arranged for reunification," AOL’s Family Reunification Project Managing Director Carol Anne Donohoe told NBC News.
Advocacy groups have carried out the grueling work on the ground to locate parents quickly deported without their children by the previous administration. “Pro bono attorneys who were part of a lawsuit against the Trump administration had been solely responsible for finding and reunifying families until the Biden task force was announced in February,” Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff report for NBC News.
While the news of family reunifications under the Biden administration has been eagerly awaited, it also been long-awaited, coming more than three months after the administration announced the formation of the federal task force. Advocates say they believe these reunifications can and should be happening more rapidly. "We represent over 30 other parents who, like these mothers, were ready for return on Day 1 of the Biden presidency,” Donohoe continued in the report.
Michelle Brané, the federal task force’s executive director, told NBC News that they believe more than 1,000 children could still be separated from their families. The Biden administration announced last month that it was reviewing nearly 6,000 files dated from the first day of the previous administration through July 2017. This, that NBC News report said, is “a time period not included in the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit against the Trump administration over family separations.”
“We need the Biden administration to provide relief to all of them, including providing them a permanent pathway to citizenship and care,” ACLU Attorney Lee Gelernt told the AP. Congressional Democrats led by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro have recently reintroduced legislation that would reunify separated families in the U.S. and put them on a path to citizenship.
“The Trump administration’s cruel family separation policy will go down in history as one of America’s worst moments,” Castro said. “While we know we can never fully do right by the children who will be forever traumatized by this political decision, the Families Belong Together Act is the bare minimum our nation owes the families who separated as an apology and a promise to do right by them.” The federal task force’s statement of principles also pledged to partner with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to help families with services including mental health care, with expenses whenever possible “borne by government, NGOs, and the private sector—and never by the families.”
Reporter Felipe De La Hoz tweeted that the parents being allowed to the return to the U.S. on humanitarian parole “is something the lawyers have been seeking for a long time, and it's significant that the administration is setting the precedent of utilizing parole to let the reunifications happen in the US.” In another tweet, Brané wrote that it “[f]eels good that families will be able to reunify after years of separation. This is the beginning of a new day.”