At a White House briefing on Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has announced avenues of relief for migrant families separated by the U.S. Department of Justice's Trump-era Zero Tolerance policy.
He noted that affected families would be given a choice to be reunited in the U.S. or their home countries.
Furthermore, the Family Reunification Task Force is set to explore lawful pathways that will permit these individuals to remain in the U.S. and access resources to meet their needs.
The Chair of the Task Force noted that considerable federal resources were being applied to "reunite children who were cruelly separated from their parents". He reiterated, "It is our moral imperative to not only reunite the families, but to provide them with the relief, resources, and services they need to heal."
Consequently, the following benefits will be at their disposal: free health care, mental health services, legal, career and educational services.
Mayorkas reported reunification efforts would be a collaboration between the government, NGOs and the private sector. Additionally, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have pledged to assist in the reunification of families.
Specialized Woman Power
Another hopeful development was the announcement that Michelle Brané would serve as the task force's Executive Director.
Michelle has extensive experience protecting human rights and working with immigration NGOs across the globe.
A Pledge of Transparency
As per its principles, the task force has pledged to "maintain clear communication with the public to explain the reunification process, report on progress, and educate on available resources to support reunited families."
The Zero Tolerance policy was instituted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in April 2018. This policy mandated the prosecution of improper entries and attempted entries (according to the violations listed of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)).
This initiative was applied across the board to all "amenable adults, including parents or legal guardians traveling with minor children."
Consequently, the number of illegal crossers referred for prosecution began to skyrocket.
According to DHS's Family Unit Actions Report (2020),
When a parent or legal guardian traveling with a child is accepted for prosecution by DOJ and transferred to U.S. Marshals Service custody for the duration of his or her criminal proceedings, the child cannot remain with the parent or legal guardian during criminal proceedings or subsequent incarceration. These children generally are determined to be unaccompanied alien children and referred to the care and custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Consequently, thousands of children were separated from their parents through enforcement proceedings and deportation.
This included children under the age of five and children with disabilities.
Some parents faced the difficult choice of returning to their home country with their children to meet the very threats they were running from. Or to make the difficult choice to leave their children behind in the U.S., hoping that they would be safe and have a better life.
A Call for Healing and Restitution
Organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union filed complaints against the federal government seeking to reunite parents forcibly separated from their children.
In Ms. L v. ICE, an asylum-seeking mother fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo sought to be reunified with her 7-year-old daughter.
The United States District Court Southern District of California Court granted a preliminary injunction against the policy in June 2018.
Pursuant to this ruling, President Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13841, Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation.
"Following the issuance of E.O. 13841, CBP leadership issued guidance to field offices directing that parents or legal guardians who entered with children generally no longer were to be referred for prosecution for violating 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)."
Even though the policy was only enforced for a few months, it caused immense damage, with more than 5,400 children being separated from their parents.
These atrocities have traumatized thousands of families and have left lasting consequences.
The government cannot turn back the clock. Still, it can step into action to alleviate the impacts of the crisis, reunite families and provide them with the necessary support services to meet their unique needs as they seek to rebuild their lives.
Follow us to keep up to date with the latest developments in U.S. immigration and the Family Reunification Task Force's progress.
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