What Happened to the Families Separated at the Border?
President Biden signed Executive Order 14011, on February 2, 2021 establishing the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families. This was a response to the prior Administration’s use of immigration laws, which include the use of the zero-tolerance policy.
Goals of the Task Force
Identify all children who were separated by DHS from their families at the United States-Mexico border between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021 as a result of the zero-tolerance policy or related initiatives.
Facilitate and enable the reunification of those children with their families.
Provide recommendations regarding the provision of additional services and support for the children and their families, including behavioral health services with a focus on trauma-informed care.
In an Initial Progress Report on June 2, the Task Force identified 3,913 separated children between the period of July 1, 2017-January 20, 2021. Prior to the Task Force, only 1,779 children were reunited with their parents in the United States due to the efforts of nonprofit organizations. This leaves 2,127 children who have not yet been reunified and are still illegally separated from their parents to the Task Force’s knowledge.
On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions notified all United States Attorney’s offices along the Southwest Border about a new “zero-tolerance policy”, in a press release. It prohibits entry into the United States by an undocumented noncitizen.
“The situation at our Southwest Border is unacceptable. Congress has failed to pass effective legislation that serves the national interest—that closes dangerous loopholes and fully funds a wall along our southern border. As a result, a crisis has erupted at our Southwest Border that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border,” said Sessions, in a press release. “To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice.”
On June 18, 2018, in response to the “zero-tolerance policy, many former Attorney Generals came together to write a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
It describes the “zero-tolerance policy” as a radical departure from previous Justice Department policy. Claiming zero-tolerance is dangerous, expensive and inconsistent with the values of the institution they served.
According to the letter, under the policy made by Sessions, federal prosecutors in the Southwestern Borders must charge, arrest and detain the individual in each and every “illegal entry” case under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a).
“Under your policy, families and children are greeted with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States, instead of with relief or asylum in the greatest country in the world,” wrote the former Attorney Generals, in the letter.
In guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), on May 5, 2018, United States Customs and Border Protections (CBP) began to increase the number of individuals sent to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution for entering the United States without documentation. This included parents who entered with their minor children. The children were then removed from their parents and classified as “unaccompanied children” and transferred to the care and custody of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
The United States leads the world in refugee resettlement capacity but without integration services it takes an average of seven years for a refugee to become self-sufficient, causing stress for both those who are resettled and the communities that welcome them.
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