The announcement was a monumental victory for families and their advocates, who had been pressuring the Biden administration to give parents the option of reuniting in the U.S. if they wished (some families may wish to reunite in their home countries). While President Biden as a candidate in the 2020 presidential race had committed to creating a task force to reunite separated families, he had not said if they would be able to reunite here.
“We applaud Secretary Mayorkas’ commitment to remedy the torture and abuse of families who were separated from their children in immigration proceedings,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) executive director Anthony D. Romero said. The organization is among the groups on the ground working to locate parents. “Of course, the devil is in the details and Secretary Mayorkas has to shed all the caveats and qualifications around his announcement and follow through with everything that’s necessary to right the wrong.”
The task force’s statement of principles said that in addition to the option of reunification in the United States, the administration would partner with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to help families with transportation, mental healthcare services, as well as legal services, with expenses whenever possible “borne by government, NGOs, and the private sector—and never by the families.”
Additionally, the task force said “[r]eunification efforts will be defined broadly,” and will consider additional family members of children who were separated for reunification. “The Task Force will identify and implement long-term reform efforts to ensure that family separations not based on the best interests of the child are not permitted to occur again,” the statement continued.
While advocates have located the parents of an additional 105 children since last month, hundreds of parents have yet to be located due to the previous administration quickly deporting them. During an appearance on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Romero stressed the need to hold officials with the previous administration accountable. “If we don’t hold criminals accountable, then what is rule of law?” he asked.
In a joint statement applauding the task force’s announcement that it would allow separated families to reunite in the U.S. if they wished, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged passage of their Families Belong Together Act, legislation they introduced in 2019 that would put all separated families on a path to citizenship.
“The administration is doing its part,” they said in their joint statement. “Now it’s up to Congress to pass our bicameral bill to provide the victims of the Trump administration’s unconscionable ‘zero tolerance policy’ with permanent legal status. This legislative action is necessary to ensure that all separated families can be reunited here in the United States. Our laws must reflect our values: families belong together.”
In his statement, Romero called permanent relief imperative. “The United States has an affirmative obligation to reunite the separated families here if they so choose, provide a pathway to citizenship for these families, and to remedy the trauma and torture these children and parents endured,” he said. “These separated families suffered unfathomably because of what our government did, and we owe them restitution. This includes a permanent pathway to citizenship, care, and resources to help them.”