The Department of Homeland Security is planning to announce Thursday that 100 children who were separated from their families at the border during the Trump administration have now been reunited with their loved ones. Despite the progress, officials believe that roughly 1,150 children are still unaccounted for, according to Michelle Brané, executive director of the DHS’ Family Reunification Task Force.
Most of the children who are now back with their families are from Central America. About 350 more reunifications are currently in progress as well.
Reversing the controversial Trump-era policy and reuniting impacted families was an immediate priority for President Joe Biden. On his first day in office, he issued an executive order requiring the reunification of children and families, and nearly a year later, the initiative is starting to ramp up.
« I would have loved to have this happen much more quickly. But we are making progress and I feel like we’re gaining momentum, » Brané said.
She added that the total of separated children whose whereabouts are still not confirmed wavers as some are located and new cases emerge.
« Obviously, this is nowhere near the end, » Brané said. « This is just the beginning of this ramp up and hopefully families will see that reunifications are happening and they will feel confident coming forward. »
The work of the task force has been complicated by a number of factors, including inadequate or missing records on the separated families, the sheer number of cases and the fact that many parents are in remote Central American communities and were unable to track down their children or get to the United States to retrieve them.
In September, the task force had reunited 50 families when the administration announced a partnership to speed up the effort with the International Organization for Migration and the creation of a web portal — Juntos.gov or Together.gov — for parents to contact the U.S. government and work through the reunification process.
About 5,500 children were forcibly removed from their parents under Trump, mostly in 2018, as his administration sought to stop an increase in people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with criminal prosecutions, even if the migrants were presenting themselves to authorities to seek asylum as permitted under the law.
Amid widespread condemnation, including from Republicans, Trump stopped the practice in June 2018 just days before a judge ordered an end to the program in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Parents and children, including some who arrived at U.S. airports this week, are being granted humanitarian parole to reside in the country for a minimum of three years and may pursue permanent status through asylum or another program. They are also receiving counseling services.
Hundreds of families have also filed lawsuits against the federal government.
The Justice Department last week told lawyers representing several groups of families that it was withdrawing from settlement negotiations, after eight months of talks, and would defend each case in court.
That came after media reports of a proposed settlement that would include payments of several hundred thousand dollars to each affected person sparked outrage among Biden administration critics in Congress and elsewhere.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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