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April 17, 2021

Separation policy

Opinion

April 17, 2021

On his first day in office, Joe Biden sent draft legislation to Congress to provide a path to citizenship for most of the 10.5 to 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. He also issued several executive orders to remedy injustices around immigration, including asylum and family separation. But the new administration has not yet been able to ramp up capabilities fast enough to handle the backlog of long-suffering families and unaccompanied children at the border, or to rebuild or repair much of what Trump dismantled. And some of Biden’s positive proposals seem to be stalling because of depleted reserves of political capital.

The new family-reunification task force mandated by Biden and chaired by DHS Secretary Mayorkas has gotten quickly to work. A court filing reported by Priscilla Alvarez of CNN showed that the number of children and parents still separated under ‘zero tolerance’ had been reduced from 611 in January to 506 in late February.

Mayorkas told news media that efforts were ramping up to bring back into the US in-process asylum seekers excluded under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico”, which has been cancelled by Biden. The secretary announced that admissions of those affected by the program have been expanded to three US ports of entry. The administration hopes to give the separated families the choice of where to be united, he said, and if they choose to reunite in the US, “we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and address the family needs.”

These compensations should also be offered to all others who were unjustly prevented from applying for asylum or wrongly rejected.

The Biden administration should also ensure that no families are being separated by its current border policies. Currently, families with children and adult individuals seeking asylum are being summarily turned back at the border in most areas under Title 42, a controversial public-health provision promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Trump. Unaccompanied children, however, are being accepted into the asylum process at the border. Because of this discrepancy, turning back families may give them an incentive to help older children escape danger by sending them on alone. The sooner those families can be allowed to cross and request asylum together, the quicker one source of children crossing alone, and consequent family separation, will be reduced.

“Transforming border reception to a humanitarian model requires many, large federal agencies to implement a wholesale shift in short-, medium-, and long-term approaches,” wrote Clara Long of Human Rights Watch. “While the administration has made important progress, kids are still stuck in border jails because the administration of former President Trump destroyed what system existed for keeping kids safe at the border.

Excerpted: ‘Was Trump’s Family-Separation Policy Torture?’

Counterpunch.org