Immigrant advocacy groups hope Biden’s administration can work toward restoring trust with the families who’ve grown increasingly skeptical of the US since having their kids taken from them.
“It’s going to take a long time for families to trust the government if they’re not seeing action,” said Cathleen Caron, executive director at Justice in Motion, which is leading the on-the-ground efforts to locate the deported parents who were separated from their children.
Advocates have been putting together a list of recommendations on how the government can work to rectify the consequences of family separation and address the situation in a thoughtful and holistic manner, according to Conchita Cruz, a co-executive director of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, which represents separated families.
“We’re starting from the premise that this is one of the low points of the last four years, one of the worst ongoing atrocities that needs to be rectified,” said Tom Jawetz, the vice president of immigration policy at Center for American Progress.
One of the first expectations of the incoming administration, Caron said, is scrubbing agencies to ensure there’s no information or data that’s been held back that could be helpful to identifying and locating families.
But beyond assuring that all family details have been provided, groups stressed that a Biden administration should focus on rectifying the damage done, leaving the process of locating families up to the groups that have worked on the issue.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has led litigation against the Trump administration over family separation, outlined five steps the incoming administration should consider taking when tackling the issue.
Those steps include allowing the parents and children who were separated and then deported to return to the United States, as well as giving some type of legal status to those families that were separated and creating a victims fund to help families with trauma and medical needs.
“Finally and importantly, while we of course welcome any help the Biden administration can give us to find the remaining families (now the parents of 628 children), that is not where we would like to see the new administration concentrate its efforts,” said Lee Gelernt,an attorney at the ACLU. “I am confident that we will ultimately find the families, but only the government can reunite the families and provide them with legal status in the United States.”
Gelernt said that through the litigation they’ve learned of nearly 5,500 separations since July 2017.
Advocate groups have also called for accountability and transparency to fully account for the “zero tolerance” policy and its ramifications, as well as factoring in the input of parents who were separated from their children.
“We need to make sure we’re using all our resources to support those efforts, rather than thinking the task force can itself serve as search and rescue,” Jawetz said, adding that the task force could play a useful role in providing a “single focus for inter-agency efforts that will have White House involvement.”
“Task force is great, but we don’t want it to be a stall tactic or take too long,” Caron echoed. “We need a focal point in the government to be able to have the conversations with.”
Speaking virtually at an American Business Immigration Coalition summit this month, Mayorkas nodded to the restrictionist policies of the Trump administration, saying that “we must stop vilifying these communities,” and he cited the family separation policy.
“There is no more powerful and heartbreaking example of that inhumanity than the separation of children from their parents,” he said.