Biden's effort to reunite Trump-era separated families is trickiest immigration challenge

Biden’s effort to reunite Trump-era separated families is trickiest immigration challenge

Originally Published in UDA Today

Rick Jervis - January 23, 2021

AUSTIN, Texas –President Joe Biden unveiled a slew of immigration policy reversals and sweeping legislative proposals in his first week in office that were widely applauded by immigration advocates.

But his efforts to undo one of the more controversial policies of former President Donald Trump's administration – family separations at the border – might be the thorniest, advocates and attorneys said.

On his website, Biden called Trump’s policy of separating children – some who were infants – from parents and other relatives who crossed into the U.S. without permission a “moral failing” and promised to immediately end the prosecution of parents for minor immigration violations that led to the separations.

Biden has also vowed to form a task force to help reunite the more than 600 parents who remain separated from their children and whose whereabouts are unknown. Executive orders specific to that policy are expected next week.

A mother migrating from Honduras holds her 1-year-old child while surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol agents after illegally crossing the border near McAllen, Texas, on June 25, 2018.

Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, who has worked to help reunite more than 450 families, said she has been encouraged by what she has seen from the Biden administration.

But it may take time to fully stop border agents from separating families, she said.

“As with all new policies, it takes a while to get the message down to the troops on the grounds,” Goodwin said.

The Trump administration approved family separations in April 2018 as part of its “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute all undocumented border crossers. Though family separations occurred under previous administrations, they became widespread practice under the policy.

TV images of children locked in federal detention facility cages sparked outrage, and Trump rescinded the order in June 2018. Family separations continued for children who were determined to be in the custody of a harmful adult.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government, and a federal judge ordered all the families to be reunited. But 2½ years after the policy was banned, more than 600 families remain separated and the parents' whereabouts unknown, according to court filings. Of those, more than 300 were deported and have been difficult to locate. All told, about 5,500 families were separated during the Trump administration, though most of them have been reunited.

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