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U.S. gov't this week to begin reuniting migrant families separated at border

By
Don Johnson
Separated migrant families embrace in the Rio Grande between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on October 26, 2019. File Photo by Justin Hamel/UPI
Separated migrant families embrace in the Rio Grande between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on October 26, 2019. File Photo by Justin Hamel/UPI | License Photo

May 3 (UPI) -- The Homeland Security Department will begin reuniting migrant families this week who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under former President Donald Trump, officials said Monday.

Officials said the effort will begin with four migrant families who were separated from their children at the southern border.

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In February, President Joe Biden set up a task force to identify separated parents and children, which has been developing a database to work from. The initial four families will be the first to be reunited through the task force.

Under a new policy, migrant parents are allowed to reunify with the children in the United States. The Trump administration barred deported parents from crossing the border again, even if it was to retrieve their children.

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"We are reuniting the first group of families, many more will follow, and we recognize the importance of providing these families with the stability and resources they need to heal," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, chair of the task force, said in a statement.

Authorities are reviewing additional cases for reunification in the coming months, the department said Sunday.

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The task force is also exploring options for "long-term legal stability for reunified families and identifying and recommending policies to avoid repeating these unnecessary and cruel separations in the future," the department said.

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The four reuniting families are from Honduras and Mexico. Some of the children have been separated since 2017, according to Mayorkas, and have been living in the United States.

Mayorkas said some of the children were as young as 3 years old and others were teenagers "who have had to live without their parents during their most formative years."

"They are mothers who fled extremely dangerous situations in their home countries, who remained in dangerous environments in Mexico, holding out hope to reunite with their children," Mayorkas said, according to NPR.

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Michelle Brané, executive director of Biden's Family Reunification Task Force, estimates that the efforts will reunite more than 1,000 families. She said, however, that the exact number is unknown because the former administration didn't keep complete records.

Under a process known as humanitarian parole, the families will be given temporary permission to enter the United States, Brané said.

In 2018, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration had to reunite thousands of families with their children, but some parents had already been deported. Fewer than a dozen parents were allowed to reunite with their children under the court order.

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Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing migrant families in a federal court case, told CBS News that he's been in settlement talks with the government about reuniting 1,000 more families.

He said he also wants officials to place separated families on a pathway to U.S. citizenship and provide them assistance and compensation.

Brané said the government is now considering "longer-term status" for the families.

In early 2018, about 2,800 migrant families were separated under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy against unlawful migration. The separated children were sent to government-run shelters and their parents were usually prosecuted for illegally crossing the border.

Children of the Central American migrant caravan

Albert Yared stands near the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown San Diego on Saturday. Albert traveled with his parents in the migrant caravan from Honduras hoping to seek asylum in the U.S., crossing from Tijuana to San Diego on December 21. They spent their first night in CBP custody, but are now wearing ankle bracelets and headed to Mississippi where they hope to begin their new lives. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

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