Among the families is a child who was 3 years old at the time they were separated from their mother

By Sean Neumann
May 03, 2021 05:28 PM
Advertisement
Alejandro Mayorkas
Alejandro Mayorkas
| Credit: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Joe Biden's administration said this week it had started reuniting families separated at the southern border under former President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policies.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that four such families were expected to be reunited this week, with "hundreds" more hoping for the same in the coming months.

"Today is just the beginning," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement, adding that "many more will follow."

"We recognize the importance of providing these families with the stability and resources they need to heal," said Mayorkas, 61, who immigrated as a boy from Cuba. He is the first immigrant to oversee the U.S. immigration system.

The Associated Press reports that Mayorkas told journalists one of the four families to be reunited this week includes a child who was 3 years old at the time they were separated from their mother under Trump's controversial policy, which split up migrant families amid prosecution for those who had entered the country illegally.

Biden's administration has called the Trump's immigration approach — including the family separation which Trump reversed under intense backlash in 2018 — "immoral."

As Biden grapples with a new increase in migrants at the border and criticism of how the government is temporarily detaining children, officials say they are working to improve the immigration system and "deal with the root cause" of increased migration from Central American countries.

border patrol facility
Border Patrol facility
| Credit: Jerry Glaser/UPI/Shutterstock
Immigration
Children play as families of asylum seekers wait outside the El Chaparral border crossing port as they wait to cross into the United States in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on February 19, 2021
| Credit: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty

The AP reports more than 5,500 children were separated from their families at the border during Trump's administration, many of them under the "zero tolerance" policy

In October, lawyers for the Justice Department revealed they still hadn't been able to locate the parents of hundreds of separated migrant children.

In February, Biden, 78, signed an executive order which created the "Task Force on the Reunification of Families," fulfilling a campaign promise.

Homeland Security said Monday the task force "has made critical progress in a short period of time, resulting in reunifications starting this week and many more in the weeks ahead."

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the AP that this week's news is "just the tip of the iceberg," while Michelle Brane, who leads the reunification task force, tweeted "this is the beginning of a new day."

Mayorkas told CBS This Morning on Monday the task force still has "hundreds" of families left to reunite. 

"We will reunite them all," he vowed.

president biden
President Joe Biden
| Credit: Getty

The reunification news comes as the Biden administration also reports a sharp decrease in unaccompanied migrant children being held in Border Patrol custody, after a massive increase of kids arriving at the border without their parents since November.

The rise in migration — the latest in a years-long pattern — resulted in what both Republican critics and some Biden administration officials described as a "crisis," in which thousands of children were being held in jail-like detention facilities well past the 72-hour legal limit.

The White House was criticized for a lack of transparency on the issue, after weeks of not allowing journalists to visit the border facilities earlier this year.

At the same time, some Republican lawmakers traveled to the border to put a spotlight on what has so far been one of the biggest GOP criticisms of the Biden administration. The White House, meanwhile, has urged patience for solutions to a perpetually polarizing issue.

The AP reports the Homeland Security has dramatically reduced the number of children being held in the adult facilities, while the average time children spend there is now 20 hours — down from an average of 133 hours in March.

In late March, officials reported more than 5,700 kids were being held in the Border Patrol facilities. The AP reports that after the Biden administration recently opened 14 additional facilities to increase capacity, the number is now 667.

Mayorkas celebrated the improvement Monday, tweeting that he was "proud" and that his department "has made significant progress."