Don’t slow progress in reuniting separated immigrant families

An estimated 1,000 families remain separated under the shameful policy of the previous administration. The Family Reunification Task Force must keep its foot on the gas.

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People demonstrate in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

A little over a year after being tasked with reuniting immigrant children who were separated from their parents at the southern border, the Family Reunification Task Force shared some good news — 400 children are back with their families.

In most cases, the child remained in the U.S. for four to five years while the parents were deported back to their country of origin. It’s understandable that the long-awaited reunifications were a huge relief for the families — and the Biden administration, which has had to repair the damage done under the Trump administration’s shameful separation policy.

Meanwhile, reparation efforts have not slowed down. Nor should they, until every child is reunited with their family.

The reunited families are being offered a chance to come to the U.S. on paid travel, where they can legally live and work for three years and also bring any dependents they had back home. Family members are also being offered mental health services because of the trauma they endured.

Editorial

Editorial

The task force has done a commendable job by giving the families an opportunity to rebuild their lives after a nightmare experience.

But with an estimated 1,000 families still separated, officials must keep their foot on the gas.

Following public scrutiny, Donald Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” policy — rightly criticized as a humanitarian failure — was short-lived. Even so, more than 3,900 families were separated between April and June of that year. And because of poor organization, officials have endured headaches and frustrations reuniting families.

The parents were funneled into criminal proceedings overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, while the children were placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The two separate departments had no system of cross-checks.

Later, in January 2021, a report from the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General noted that once parents were separated from their children, there was no thought-out plan or resources to easily reunite the families.

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The Trump administration did nothing after dropping the policy, so lawyers and nonprofit organizations stepped in and took it upon themselves to reunite the families. But because no records were kept, they had a difficult time matching children and their families.

With limited resources, workers at these organizations sometimes had to depend on young children remembering details about their old homes and their parents, who were often fleeing violent situations and might not have returned to the same place after being deported.

Two weeks into his presidency, President Joe Biden ordered the formation of a federal task force to bring children and parents back together and ensure the families were provided support. The task force began reunifying families in May 2021 and has since been publishing consistent reports outlining their progress.

As of July 31, the task force has a total of 1,550 registered families on Together.gov and Juntos.gov, websites that help the victims of separation submit their information for the government to review and move forward with reunification.

The separation of families at our southern border was a dark, disgraceful chapter in U.S. history. Families are still recovering. Officials are still struggling to fix it.

It’s good news that the task force has accomplished what it has so far. But there are still moms, dads and children who are nearing half a decade apart. There’s plenty of work to do before celebrating.

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