Four months into the Biden administration’s efforts to reunite migrant families who were separated at the border during the Trump administration, a total of three dozen families have been cleared to be reunified in the United States.
That’s a tiny fraction of the thousands of families who remain apart, and immigrant advocates who have been pushing for their reunification for years say not enough is being done to right a massive injustice.
The Biden administration’s Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families released an initial progress report today, announcing that 29 families have been cleared for reunification in the coming weeks, in addition to seven families reunited earlier.
“I don’t think they’re where they need to be,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with American Civil Liberties Union, which fought the family separation policy in court and is still in settlement negotiations with the Biden administration. “The report is underwhelming.”
More than 5,600 children were separated from their families at the U.S-Mexico border during the Trump administration, according to the report. Most were separated under former President Trump’s zero tolerance policy intended to deter Central American migrants from coming north to the border.
While many of the families already have been reunited under a court order, up to 2,127 children could still be separated from their parents, according to the task force report.
Task force officials say they’re working to build a reunification process that can be scaled up successfully for hundreds of families that remain apart.
“We chose intentionally to start slow so that we can go fast later,” said a senior administration official who spoke on background in a call with reporters. “It’s one thing to do this on an individual basis … and quite another when you’re trying to build a system that will work for many, many more cases.”
Immigrant advocates, acknowledging that the reunification effort is monumental and difficult, say they’re hopeful that the task force will move faster to reunite desperate families.
“We don’t want to look backward,” Gelernt said. “We want to look forward and hope the government increases the pace.”
Task force officials say part of the problem is that they still are grappling with incomplete and inaccurate information about separated children and parents that was collected by the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration.
“This is really a reflection of the lack of tracking and record keeping at the time,” the senior administration official said. “We found numerous errors and misinformation. There were wrong dates, name confusions, repeated cases.”
In addition to identifying which families are eligible to be reunited in the U.S., the task force is exploring a range of services to support those families after they arrive.
The administration already is funding behavioral health treatment for families with conditions that were caused by family separation. The task force is considering additional social services — including case management and parenting support — that are intended to promote healing.