This week the Biden administration will begin the process of reuniting migrant families who were separated by former president Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, the Department of Homeland Security announced.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said four families who were separated at the Mexico border are expected to be reunited this week.
“The Family Reunification Task Force has been working day and night, across the federal government and with counsel for the families and our foreign partners, to address the prior administration’s cruel separation of children from their parents,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
Under Trump’s policy, more than 5,500 children were separated from their parents dating back to July 2017, of which, more than 1,000 families remain separated according to DHS.
“Today is just the beginning. 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.
An attorney from the ACLU who is leading the organization’s class-action lawsuit opposing the family separation policy, Lee Gelernt, told the New York Times this is a step in the right direction.
“We are pleased the Biden administration has now taken its first steps to address the harm caused by the Trump administration’s barbaric family separation practice and thrilled for the four families who will be reunited this week,” Gelernt said. “But we certainly do not intend to take a victory lap at this point. It is not enough for these families to be reunited.”
But immigration advocacy group Al Otro Lado (AOL) said that the administration is taking too much credit for the reunions. “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,” Carol Anne Donohoe, managing attorney of Al Otro Lado’s Family Reunification Project, told NBC News. “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.”
Even as these reunifications happen, the administration still faces an influx of children coming across the border who were brought to emergency intake centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services. As of Friday, the agency has 22,557 children under its care.