President Joe Biden signed three major executive orders Tuesday aimed at reversing former President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration practices.
One executive order will create a task force to reunite children who were separated from their parents under Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, which an administration official called a "moral failing." The task force will be chaired by the homeland security secretary.
"President Trump was so focused on the wall he did nothing to address the root causes of why are people are coming to our southern border — it was a limited, wasteful and naive strategy, and it failed," a senior administration official said. "People continue to migrate to the United States — even today — because of it. President Biden's approach is to deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly and humanely."
After signing the orders in the White House on Tuesday, Biden told reporters he is not creating "new law" but "eliminating bad policy." He did not take questions.
During his presidential campaign, Biden ran ads promising to establish such a task force "on his first day as president." The new executive action is not explicitly clear about which migrant families will and will not be eligible for reunification. The senior administration officials said the task force will be responsible for "identifying all minor children that were separated from their parents or legal guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border due to Trump's 'zero tolerance' policy."
A federal lawsuit in the Southern District of California has identified over 600 children separated from their parents, the majority of whom were separated before April 6, 2018, when Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, announced the beginning of the program.
Asked whether families separated before the policy was implemented would be eligible for reunification, one of the senior administration officials said the task force would also consider families separated under an earlier pilot program. The official said each family would be evaluated on an "individual basis," taking into account the "preference of the family ... and the well-being of children."
The executive action does not address whether parents who have been deported will be given special protections to come back to the United States to reunite with their children.
The task force will only look only at families still separated, a White House official told NBC News. That excludes families who chose deportation to a country they originally decided to flee in order to reunite. Lawyers for the families had argued that as victims of the separation policy, they should be allowed special protections to return to the U.S. to seek asylum.
The officials said the second executive action would evaluate legal immigration programs, such as the Central American Minors Program, which began under President Barack Obama. That program allowed certain children from the region to lawfully unite with family members in the U.S.; Trump terminated it in 2017, which the administration official said left thousands in limbo.
The order would also review the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy, which has left tens of thousands of asylum-seekers, most of them Central American, living in poor conditions in northern Mexico as they await court hearings to make their cases for protection in the U.S.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
The third executive action will direct the State Department, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to review guidelines and policies implemented under Trump to determine whether they are in line with the government's desire to promote "integration and inclusion."
It will also start a review of the policy known as "public charge," which punishes legal immigrants who use public benefits by hurting their chances to receive green cards. Although immigration advocates had called for an immediate undoing of the actions, the Biden administration is reviewing the policies in the near term. It will also call for a review of the naturalization process.
"We want to put in place an immigration process here that can, that is humane, that is moral, that considers applications for refugees, applications for people to come into this country at the border in a way that treats people as human beings," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "That’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight."