The United States will look for legal ways for migrant families separated at the US-Mexico border under a Trump-era policy to stay in the US if they choose, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Monday.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas blasted the previous administration under President Donald Trump which separated more than 5,400 children from their parents under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
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Under the policy put in place in 2017, children were put in detention centres and later placed with host families, drawing widespread outcry. Parents were criminally prosecuted and then deported. The policy was abandoned in 2018.
More than 500 children are still believed to be separated after the task force succeeded in locating more than 100 families. Mayorkas said these families would have the option to settle in the US.
“We are hoping to reunite the families, either here or in the country of origin,” he said during a news conference at the White House. “And if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States, and to address the family needs.”
But Mayorkas said establishing a more humane policy at the border is going to require time.
“It takes time to build out of the depths of cruelty that the administration before us, established,” said Mayorkas.
“It takes time to rebuild an entire system, and to process, individuals at the border in a safe and just way, that is especially true when we’re in the midst of the pandemic.”
Although the Biden administration has pledged to never impose such a policy ever again, how the US will process migrants at the border, including unaccompanied minors, remains unclear.
Mayorkas said there are currently 200 migrant children crossing the border every day, in addition to 1,000 other crossings on Monday.
“We are challenged at the border, the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are meeting that challenge,” he said. “It is a stressful challenge,” adding that the Biden administration has dedicated resources, including personnel dedicated to manage the flow of people.
The Biden administration is under fire by immigration advocates for keeping in place “Title 42”, a provision Trump put in place, which uses the pandemic as the reason to allow the swift expulsion of people who seek asylum at a US border.
Mayorkas defended the decision.
“If single adults, come to the border, we are obligated in the service of public health, including the health of the very people who are thinking of coming – to impose the travel restrictions under the CDC Title 42 of federal authorities and return them to Mexico, and we have done that,” he said.
“We need individuals to wait.”