SAN DIEGO (AP) – The Biden administration said on Monday that four families separated at the Mexican border during Donald Trump’s presidency will meet in the United States this week in what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calls “just the start” of a larger effort.
Two of the four families include mothers who were separated from their children at the end of 2017, one Honduran and another Mexican, said Mayorkas, refusing to detail their identities. He described them as 3-year-olds at the time and “teenagers who had to live without their parents during their most formative years.”
The parents will return to the United States on humanitarian parole while authorities consider other forms of longer-term legal status, said Michelle Brane, executive director of the administration’s family reunification task force. The kids are already in the United States
Exactly how many families will reunite in the United States and in what order is linked to negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union to settle a federal lawsuit in San Diego, but Mayorkas said there are more to come .
“We continue to work tirelessly to reunite many more children with their parents in the weeks and months to come,” Mayorkas told reporters. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and the reunifications we’ve helped achieve.”
Over 5,500 children have been separated from their parents during the Trump administration since July 1, 2017, many under a “zero tolerance” policy criminally prosecute any adult who entered the country illegally, according to court documents. The Biden administration has been doing its own tally since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and, according to Brane, estimates that more than 1,000 families remain separated.
As the “zero tolerance” family separation ended in June 2018 by court ruling and shortly after Trump reversed course, Biden repeatedly assaulted the practice as an act of cruelty. A decree from the first day of his mandate promised to reunite families still separated “to the greatest extent possible”.
The ACLU is happy for the four families, but their reunification is “just the tip of the iceberg,” said attorney Lee Gelernt. Of the more than 5,500 children known to have been separated, more than 1,000 may still be separated from their parents and more than 400 parents have yet to be traced, he said.
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“We need the Biden administration to provide relief to them all, including providing them with a permanent path to citizenship and care,” Gelernt said.
Reunifications begin as the Biden administration faces the third major increase in the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border in seven years. He has made great strides in moving children from extremely overcrowded border patrol facilities to US Department of Health and Human Services shelters, which are more suited to long-term stays until children are placed in the home. sponsors in the United States, usually relatives or close relatives.
The average stay of an unaccompanied child in border patrol custody has dropped to around 20 hours, below the legal limit of 72 hours and down from 133 hours at the end of March, Mayorkas said. There are 677 unaccompanied children in border patrol custody, up from more than 5,700 at the end of March.
Health and social services have opened 14 emergency reception centers, bringing the capacity to nearly 20,000 beds from 952 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was dispatched on March 13, Mayorkas said. About 400 asylum officers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services have been assigned as case managers to expedite the delivery of children to sponsors. As of Thursday, Health and Social Services had 22,557 children in its care.