The new First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), Jill Biden, will monitor a US immigration task force that will be set up to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border under Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. The zero-tolerance US immigration policy was recently quashed by an executive order issued by President Biden.
Few details have been disclosed about how the Biden administration will reunite separated families, but it’s understood that Jill Biden’s chief of staff will oversee a task force that’s expected to be announced by President Biden in the coming days.
Thousands of people seeking asylum, but not deported from the US, were split from their children at the border during Trump’s four years in office.
A spokesperson for the FLOTUS said: “Ms Biden’s chief of staff Julissa Reynoso, a former US ambassador to Uruguay, will monitor the federal reunification effort given her background as a lawyer.”
Earlier this month Ron Klain, President Biden’s chief of staff, announced that the President ‘would begin the difficult but critical work of reuniting families separated at the border’ by February 1.
An interagency approach is expected to be announced by President Biden, which will include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees US immigration agencies, Health and Human Services and the Department of State (DoS).
The interagency effort will reportedly be spearheaded by the newly appointed DHS Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Thousands of families separated
According to official data, nearly 3,000 children alone were separated from their parents at the US southern border with Mexico in 2018. During a pilot of the policy in El Paso, Texas hundreds more families were separated. The zero-tolerance US immigration policy attempted to prosecute migrants for illegal entry into the US.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that at least a 1,000 more families were separated since 2018.
Under the policy, thousands of parents have been deported, leaving them with the agonizing choice of returning to a volatile country with their children or leaving them behind in the United States with relatives.
It’s unknown whether the announcement of the new US immigration taskforce will include details on whether families will be given special permission to enter the US to reunite with their children.
Several pro-bono groups that have worked to reunite families so far say that they have been unable to reach the parents of more than 600 children, believing that at least two-thirds of them have been deported.
Biden has now officially rescinded the zero-tolerance policy and according to a directive issued by Acting Attorney General, Monty Wilkinson, the President has instructed federal prosecutors to resume ‘the longstanding principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases.’
In the first week of his presidency, Biden has issued several orders in an effort to reverse many of his predecessor’s anti-immigration policies, which include a pause on construction of the border wall and overturning a US visa ban imposed on majority-Muslim nations.
Legislation has also been put forward that would provide a pathway to US citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in America.
According to DoJ officials, those responsible for overseeing the zero-tolerance US immigration policy under Trump – including then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior adviser Stephen Miller – had ‘failed to implement the order or manage the chaotic fallout, despite knowing it would result in separating families and imprisoning children.’
A report published by the DoJ said: “The agency’s single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions of immigrant families crossing the southern border came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact of family unit prosecutions and child separations.”
In a separate report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, it was found that many of the children who had been separated from their parents at the border, after escaping violence in their home country and enduring dangerous journeys to reach the US, had suffered post-traumatic stress symptoms and other health issues.
Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees criticized the Trump administration’s ‘chaos, cruelty and reckless disregard for vulnerable children in US custody.’
US immigration advocates have urged the Biden administration to put right the injustices inflicted on families separated at the border, not only under the Trump administration but during Barack Obama’s two terms in office under which Biden served as Vice President.
Critics claim that the Obama administration had ‘provided the infrastructure that allowed for Trump’s weaponized agenda.’
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