WASHINGTON (Associated Press) – An initiative by the Joe Biden administration to reunite children and parents separated during President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy has made incremental progress as it approaches the end of its first year.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that 100 children, most of them from Central America, have been reunited with their families, and there are about 350 more reunifications after the agency took steps to improve the program.
“I would have loved this to have worked faster. But we are making progress and I feel we are gaining momentum,” said Michelle Brane, former CEO of the government-owned Family Reunion Task Force.
On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order to reunite families separated under the widely criticized Trump administration’s practice of separating parents and children at the US border with Mexico in order to discourage illegal immigration.
Announcing the milestone with the program on Twitter, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mallorcas, thanked community organizations for helping identify and contact family members. “We have a lot of work to do,” he wrote. “We are committed to finding every family and giving them the opportunity to be reunited and recover.”
Various factors have complicated the task force’s task, including insufficient or missing files for separated families, the large number of cases, and the fact that many parents live in remote communities in Central America without the ability to know where their children are or to go to the United States to bring them back.
In September, the task force reunited 50 families when the government announced a partnership with the International Organization for Migration to streamline the programme. An online portal – Juntos.gov or Together.gov – has been created for parents to connect with the US government and work on the reunification process.
About 5,500 children were forcibly removed from their parents during the Trump administration, mainly in 2018. He wanted to stop the increase in the number of people crossing the border between Mexico and the United States by resorting to criminal proceedings, even though immigrants were accounted for. Before the authorities to seek asylum, as permitted by law.
Amid widespread condemnation, including from Republicans themselves, Trump suspended the measure in June 2018, just days before a judge ordered its termination in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Barani said in an interview before Thursday’s announcement that authorities believe there are still about 1,150 children whose whereabouts have yet to be confirmed. The total fluctuates as some cases are resolved with new information and new cases appear, including some from people who have contacted through the new internet portal.
“It’s clearly not near the end at all,” Brany said. “This is just the beginning of this increase, and we hope that families will see the reunion happening and feel confident to step it up” and raise their case.
Reunited parents and children, including some who arrived at US airports this week, receive conditional release on humanitarian grounds to stay in the country for at least three years and obtain permanent residence through asylum or another program. They also receive consulting services.
Hundreds of families have also filed lawsuits against the federal government.
The Justice Department told lawyers from various family groups last week that it was withdrawing from negotiations to reach agreements after eight months of talks and that it would defend every case in court.
The announcement came after various media reported about the proposed agreement that would involve paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to each person affected, angering critics of the Biden government in Congress and elsewhere.
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