Biden to create task force to reunite families separated at the border, White House says
By BEN GITTLESON and QUINN OWEN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden will sign three executive orders on Tuesday aimed at reforming the U.S. immigration system and rolling back his predecessor’s policies, including creating a task force aimed at reuniting children who American authorities separated from their families on the border, according to the White House.
Chaired by the Homeland Security secretary, the task force would work to identify all families broken apart under the various forms of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance policy,” which separated children from relatives at the U.S. border, even before it became an official policy, a senior Biden administration official said.
The task force, which would be vice-chaired by the secretaries of State and Health and Human Services, would manage family reunifications on a case-by-case basis, making different immigration benefit determinations for different families, the official said.
“There’s no one solution fits all,” the official said. “It will be an individual assessment.”
Biden plans to sign another order that would direct his administration to address the root causes of migration from Central America and have the secretary of Homeland Security review the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, under which asylum seekers in the United States are sent to Mexico to wait for court appearances north of the border, the White House said.
That executive order and a third one the president plans to sign Tuesday will kick off a review of more restrictive immigration policies enacted by the Trump administration and “restore the U.S. asylum system,” including by streamlining the naturalization process and putting the White House at the center of “coordinating the federal government’s strategy to promote immigrant integration and inclusion,” the White House said.
The Trump administration’s aggressive immigration agenda wasn’t limited to the southern border, and neither was Biden’s planned policy reversals.
The third order will call for a review of the “public charge” rule former President Donald Trump tried to use to limit poor immigrants from coming to the United States legally, according to the White House. The rule prevents those using public benefits from receiving green cards; the Trump administration expanded the list of public entitlement programs that qualified, to include housing benefits and food stamps.
As a presidential candidate, Biden pledged to reverse many of his predecessor’s harsh and restrictive immigration policies. On his first day in office, he ended Trump’s ban on migration from a number of Muslim-majority and African countries.
The rollout of these immigration actions had been pushed back when the Senate delayed a confirmation vote for Biden’s pick for Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, the White House said last week. The Senate is scheduled to vote on his nomination Tuesday.
The nonprofit organization leading the effort to reunite more than 500 migrant children still separated for their parents, Justice in Motion, told ABC News last month that such a task force was desperately needed to cut through bureaucratic tape and scale up the resources involved in the search.
The group’s director, Cathleen Caron, said it was “the first step toward healing these families” that will be “forever harmed” by the “zero-tolerance” policy.
The search for parents has been a painstaking process, hampered by hurricanes, the COVID-19 pandemic and bureaucracy. Many parents are back in Central America while their children remain in the United States.
“It’s pretty shocking that two and a half years later, after this policy was stopped, that the government is still handing over information and we’re still searching for some of these families,” Caron said.
Over 4,000 families separated under Trump’s family separation policy, she said.
“The hope is that we find all these parents and that these families are reunified,” Caron said.
Justice In Motion, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates have been pressing Biden to extend legal status to the affected families and have the reunifications happen on U.S. soil.
Tuesday’s actions do not address all of Biden’s immigration-related promises, such as those related to the refugee system, but immigrant advocates have largely praised his approach so far.
“Donald Trump spent four years attempting to dismantle America’s legal immigration system,” Doug Rand, who runs Boundless Immigration, a legal services provider, said. “Today, President Biden is committing the whole executive branch to building it back.”
Biden has also put forward a legislative proposal, which carves out a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the country. It includes funding for border security, but without the hardline legal measures used to immediately remove unauthorized migrants from the Southwest.
Immigration restrictionists, including groups like Numbers USA, have criticized the Biden administration for pursuing what they call open borders policies.
“I think the Biden administration is less enthusiastic about enforcement and trying to deter future immigration and they’re showing it through their actions,” Numbers USA Deputy Director Chris Chmielenski said.
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