SAN DIEGO – A new task force from the Biden administration that will focus on reuniting migrant families separated on the border as part of the Trump era is expected to resolve many of the remaining issues raised in a landmark case in San Diego will be contested, lawyers said in a hearing Friday.
The details of the Interagency Task Force on Family Reunification, established by an executive order on Feb.2, are not yet known. Lee Learned, the American Civil Liberties Union’s senior parenting attorney, told a judge he was “hopeful”.
The task force’s mission is to identify all children separated as part of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy for those crossing the border illegally, starting with a 2017 pilot in Texas, and then reuniting To enable and enable “as far as possible”.
President Joe Biden described the task force as a way to “undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, tore children from the arms of their families – their mothers and fathers on the border.”
Thousands of families have been reunited or have the opportunity to reunite as part of the lawsuit that began in federal court in San Diego in 2018. However, efforts are still being made to track down the parents of the remaining 499 children, around two-thirds of whom are believed to have been deported from the United States after their separation. The rest of the parents are believed to be in the United States, some of whom may have been reunited with their children but have not raised concerns about their immigration status.
In the last six weeks alone, 112 parents were found. This is progress that lawyers attribute in part to a new database of phone numbers provided by the government a few months ago, as well as local efforts in Central America that have begun resuming after a slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Parents of a further 699 children were found, although they are not necessarily reunited with their children. What happens next is likely to depend on the task force that was also tasked with examining the possibility of obtaining separated family visas or other immigration benefits – a request the ACLU made as part of the litigation.
That the White House now seems to be fully focused on the effort should harmonize the work, said US District Judge Dana Sabraw. “It’s exciting in many ways,” he said.
But Sabraw also pointed out the uniqueness of the situation. While the task force is led by an immigration attorney, Michelle Brané, most recently a member of the Women’s Refugee Commission, it is rounded off by government agencies – including the Attorney General, the Homeland Security Secretary, the Secretary of State and the Secretary for Health and Human Services – most of them are defendants in the litigation.
Because of this, the court’s oversight on the matter should continue for the sake of accountability and “to ensure that every stone is turned and every effort is made to locate each parent,” Sabraw said.
The task force must also “issue a report with recommendations within the year to ensure that the federal government does not repeat the guidelines and practices leading to separation of families at the border,” according to Biden’s executive order.
At the trial, Sabraw previously acknowledged that he had limited powers to prohibit all separations, such as when an adult parent or legal guardian is taken into criminal custody. But he ordered the government to allow families to reunite once a migrant is out of criminal detention and in civil immigration detention.
To that end, he also ordered the government to put in place a system that would document and track all future disconnections between various federal agencies so that reunification could take place as soon as legally possible – part of the zero-tolerance policy the Trump administration was sorely absent in 2018.
The task force has to send its first progress report to Biden by early June.
Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.