Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were instructed Thursday to begin taking additional steps to ensure that they are not unintentionally separating parents from their children at the southern border or when making arrests inside the country.
A memo by acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, which was obtained by NBC News, instructs agents to “affirmatively inquire” about the relationship between migrants and minors they are crossing the border with, and to update the migrants’ files with that information.
The new procedures are the latest in a series of steps the Biden administration has taken to ensure that the separation of migrant families, which was done systematically by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018, does not happen again.
Over 5,000 parents were separated from their children under then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” policy and a pilot program that began the year before, according to immigration advocates. Because of poor record keeping, hundreds of families have still not been identified or reunited, the advocates have said in court filings.
In the memo, Johnson further established rights for parents and legal guardians, including the right to child welfare services and programs. As migrants living in the country without legal status do not typically have access to welfare programs like Medicaid, it is not clear which services Johnson is referring to in his memo. A fuller directive is expected to accompany the memo, but it has not yet been published.
Parents and legal guardians who have been deported will be allowed to return to the United States to participate in court hearings related to their parental rights, the memo said.
ICE agents will also undergo new training on “safeguarding the parental or guardianship rights of noncitizens they encounter while executing their duties,” Johnson said in the memo.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.