The Biden administration has reunited 400 children with their parents after they were separated as migrants crossing the southern border under the Trump administration, said Michelle Brané, the executive director of the Family Reunification Task Force.
More than 5,000 families were separated under Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” policy and a 2017 pilot program and advocates estimate over 1,000 remain separated. Because the Trump administration did not keep records of which children were separated and where they were sent, the task force and lawyers working on behalf of separated families have had a difficult time identifying families to offer them the chance of reunification.
In the majority of recently reunited cases, Brané said, the parents were deported while the children remained in the U.S. Now, parents are given the opportunity to come to the U.S. on paid travel, bring other members of their family who are dependent on them, and live and work in the U.S. legally for three years.
Lawyers for the families have advocated for legal permanent status on behalf of separated families, but so far the Biden administration has not agreed to that provision.
Brané said the reunification also includes mental health services for families both before and after reunification. She said many of the families have suffered from profound mental health issues after their separation and counseling is often needed before they reunify.
“You don’t want to just throw kids into an environment with a parent they may not have seen for five years,” Brané said.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order soon after he took office establishing a task force to find and reunite separated families, and the task force began reunifying families in May 2021. Previously, other families were reunited on their own or through the help of lawyers.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the separated families in a class action lawsuit, said, “We are thrilled for the hundreds of children who will finally be with their parents after all these years, but we are not even halfway through reuniting all the families that remain separated by the Trump administration.
"And indeed, we still haven’t located nearly 200 families. I think the Biden administration would agree that there’s a lot of work yet to be done.”