The task force led by the Department of Homeland Security to examine and help facilitate efforts to reunite children separated from their parents at the border said there is no record yet of 2,127 children being returned to their families.
The Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families this week submitted to President Biden its first progress report mandated by executive order, reviewing the cases of 3,913 children who were separated from their families between July 1, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021, under the previous administration’s policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. The task force is reviewing an additional 1,723 separations from that time frame, as well as additional case files from January to July 2017 to determine if there are more family separations that were used as a deterrence measure than previously thought — noting that the Trump administration began discussing family separations as early as February 2017.
Most family separations took place between April and July 2018, the task force reported, with a slight increase in separations between April and July 2019 consistent with seasonal migration flows.
Under previous court orders, 1,779 children were reunified with their parents. Since the formation of the task force, seven more kids were reunited with their families. More reunifications are anticipated soon, with the pace of reunions also expected to increase.
“The Department of Homeland Security is committed to the relentless pursuit of reunifying families who were cruelly separated by the previous Administration,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who serves as chairman of the task force.“When we reunified the first seven families last month, I said that this was just the beginning. In the coming weeks, we will reunify 29 more families. In close coordination with non-governmental organizations, legal, and interagency partners, the Task Force will continue this critical work.”
Families are being reunified under Mayorkas’ parole authority, which allows relatives temporary permission to return to the United States for 36 months and can be renewed. Behavioral health services will be provided for the parents by the Department of Health and Human Services. “Key functions to support families undergoing reunification and continued healing may include case management services, clinical behavioral health treatment services, psychoeducational and parenting support, and additional social services that enable the healing for health conditions caused by the Zero-Tolerance Policy and related policies or initiatives,” the report said.
The task force started reunifying families in coordination with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing family members who have requested the humanitarian parole. “NGOs who have been working with families and the ACLU continue to play a critical role in contacting parents and facilitating the reunification with their children,” the report said.
Multiple families impacted by family separations are party to the class-action lawsuit Ms. L. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That lawsuit excludes legal guardians and parents who have a criminal history, including nonviolent unauthorized re-entry after expulsion from the United States. The task force is counting on the lawsuit steering committee to contact separated parents and children “to respect the privacy and safety of separated parents.”
The report said a key hurdle in their work is “the absence of family separation records maintained by the prior Administration,” and “identifying the eligible separated children and their parents has required the Task Force to collect and reconcile overlapping data sets from multiple federal departments and the NGOs working with these families.”
“No comprehensive, interagency system was in place at the time to track separated parents and their minor children to ensure that families could promptly and successfully be reunited once the parents were released from detention,” the task force noted. “Further, DHS did not coordinate with other affected agencies in implementing this policy.”
And while “most of the separated children and parents have already been identified, certain populations remain unknown, and their identification has been a major focus of the Task Force during its first 120 days.”
Still, “in the months ahead, the Task Force anticipates a steady increase in the number of parents and legal guardians requesting humanitarian parole to return to the United States to reunify with their children and to obtain the support they may need for a successful reunification,” and “as the process matures, the Task Force will build upon best practices to ensure successful family reunifications.”
Five children remain in HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement custody because the agency could not locate a relative nor suitable sponsor willing to care for them.
“Once children are released to a sponsor, they are no longer in HHS-ORR custody and its legal authority over them ends,” the report noted. “The Task Force does not have data on children who may have reunified with their separated parents following placement with a sponsor.”
Future progress reports are to be submitted to the president every 60 days.