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DHS Touts Reuniting Just 4 of More Than 1,000 Separated Migrant Families

The process of reuniting families, a campaign promise made by Biden, has been a slow one, critics maintain.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 1, 2021.

The Biden administration announced over the weekend that it would begin reuniting several families separated under the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy implemented by former President Donald Trump in 2017 and 2018. But many immigrants’ rights organizations are criticizing the administration for moving too slowly and adding unnecessary hurdles to the process.

Four families will be reunited with their children this week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sunday evening. Few details about the families were provided to protect their privacy, but some of those who were reunited included a child who was taken from their parent at age 3 under the policy, as well as two women who were separated from their kids in late 2017.

Those four families, however, represent a small percentage of the estimated 1,000 families that remain separated, DHS acknowledged.

“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,” Mayorkas said in a statement.

Department officials said that families returning to the U.S. to retrieve their children would receive humanitarian parole status in order to do so. The Biden administration is also “looking into longer-term status” for parents to allow them to stay and work in the U.S.

President Joe Biden, who made a campaign promise to reunify families separated under “zero-tolerance,” established a task force through executive order in February to achieve that goal. But by early April, around 90 days into his presidency, zero families had been reunited with their children that were separated under Trump’s harsh and inhumane immigration policies.

One of the current delays to reunifying families, DHS officials have maintained, is the processing of 5,600 additional child migrant cases from 2017, which hadn’t been reviewed for evidence of family separation. The administration has also blamed the Trump White House for having “incomplete” information about families and children that were separated.

Despite these limitations, not enough is being done, organizations representing migrant families have said.

“We are thrilled for the four families that are going to be reunited this week, but we are not feeling like this is a time for celebration,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Having been doing this for four years, we know how much work is left to be done. We assume and I hope the Biden administration recognizes that as well.”

Other organizations, including Al Otro Lado, a group that “provides holistic legal and humanitarian support to indigent refugees, deportees, and other migrants in the U.S. and Tijuana,” took a more critical tone toward the Biden administration, noting that DHS was unduly taking credit for helping to reunite families this week.

“Despite what Secretary Mayorkas would have the public believe, DHS has done nothing to facilitate the return and reunification of these parents this week, other than to agree to allow them in,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, managing attorney of the Al Otro Lado’s Family Reunification Project. “The only reason these mothers will be standing at the port of entry is because Al Otro Lado negotiated their travel visas with the Mexican government, paid for their airline tickets and arranged for reunification.”

Donohoe added that the Biden administration was making the process of reunification harder than it has to be.

“DHS would have you believe that this is an incredibly complex task, yet AOL, with our limited resources, has already reunified nearly 40 deported parents with their children,” Donohoe noted. “There is no reason, other than lack of political will, for DHS to make these families undergo even one more day of separation and torture.”

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