Joe Biden is set to create a taskforce to reunify families separated at the US-Mexico border by the Trump administration, as part of a new series of immigration executive actions.
The two other orders to be announced on Tuesday call for a review of the changes the Trump administration made to reshape US immigration, and for programs to address the forces driving people north, senior Biden administration officials said.
A briefing document said Biden’s immigration plans are “centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair, safe and orderly immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people – both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations – to more fully contribute to our country”.
A central piece of the Tuesday actions is the family reunification taskforce, which is charged with identifying and enabling the reunification of all children separated from their families by the Trump administration.
The government first made the separations public with an April 2018 memo, but about a thousand families were separated in secret in the months prior. Administration officials said children in both groups would be included in the reunification process.
Biden officials said they could not say how many children had to be reunified because the policy was implemented without a method for tracking the separated families. In an ongoing court case, a reunification committee said in December that the parents of 628 children had not been located.
The taskforce will consist of government officials and be led by Biden’s nominee for secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, who is set to be confirmed on Tuesday.
A senior administration official said the family separation policy was a “moral failure and national shame” and that reversing the policies which made it possible was a priority.
The second action on Tuesday is intended to address the driving forces of migration from Central and South America. Senior administration officials said this includes working with governments and not-for-profits to increase other countries’ capacities to host migrants and ensuring Central American refugees and asylum seekers have legal pathways to enter the US.
It also directs the homeland security secretary to review the migrant protection protocols (MPP), better known as Remain in Mexico, which require asylum seekers to await their court hearings in Mexican border towns instead of in the US, as before.
The Biden administration also plans to use this action to bring back some Obama-era policies, such as the Central American Minors (CAM) program, which allowed some minors to apply for refugee status from their home countries.
The Trump administration made more than 400 changes to reshape immigration, according to the Migration Policy Institute, and Biden’s third action includes a review of some of these recent efforts to restrict legal immigration.
This includes a review of the public charge rule, which the Trump administration expanded to allow the federal government to deny green cards and visas to immigrants if they used public benefits. Though the rule was suspended repeatedly because of lawsuits, its initial introduction created a chilling effect in immigrant communities, with families dis-enrolling from aid programs out of concerns about its effect on they and their family’s immigration status.
Administration officials said changes to US immigration would not happen “overnight” and that there would be more executive orders.
Advocates are still waiting for policies which address immigration detention and Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bar on asylum seekers and refugees during the Covid-19 outbreak. An estimated 13,000 unaccompanied migrant children were deported under the order before it was temporarily blocked by a court in November.
On Biden’s first day in office, he signed six executive actions on immigration to rescind the travel ban on people from Muslim-majority countries, halt funding to construction of the border wall. He also rolled back Trump’s policy that eliminated deportation priorities.
Since taking office, Biden has also introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress, put a 100-day moratorium on deportations – which has since been blocked in federal court – and rescinded the “zero tolerance” policy which allowed for family separations at the border.
On Monday, the Biden administration asked the US supreme court to cancel oral arguments on two upcoming cases filed by Trump about the border wall and Remain in Mexico. The cases could effectively be moot because of Biden’s actions as president.