The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is asking Americans for ideas on how to prevent the future separation of migrant families at the southern border.
This controversial practice of the Trump administration ripped thousands of immigrant children from their parents or guardians so the U.S. government could threaten or prosecute adults for illegally crossing into the United States. Trump administration officials and anti-immigration allies believed this practice would create a deterrent to immigration.
“Public feedback will be used to help develop recommendations to President Biden on how to prevent the federal government from implementing in the future the cruel and inhumane practice of intentionally separating families at the border as a tool of deterrence,” the Department of Homeland Security said in announcing the request.
The call for recommendations was issued earlier this month just as another Trump-era policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, were being reinstated by the White House in compliance with a federal court ruling in Texas. Also known as Remain in Mexico and denounced by immigration advocates for its brutality, that measure allows the United States to deport asylum seekers while their cases work through clogged American immigration courts.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wants to prevent a repeat of the traumatic scenes of bewildered, terrified children isolated in detention centers that occurred under Trump’s “zero tolerance” practice that was officially rescinded this year by President Biden. DHS said close to 4,000 children were separated under the practice that began in 2017.
“It is unconscionable to separate children from their parents as a means to deter migration,” Mayorkas said in the Dec. 10 announcement. “I have met with separated families and heard firsthand of the immense trauma they have suffered. We have an obligation to reunite separated families and ensure this cruel practice never happens again.”
Organizations and alliances that support immigrants are preparing to submit recommendations by the Jan. 10 deadline.
“Fellowship Southwest will either comment on this request from the Department of Homeland Security individually or partner with other coalitions to submit comments,” said Elket Rodriguez, an immigrant attorney and specialist with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest.
But Rodriguez offered an initial suggestion to DHS: “The best way to prevent future practices of separating children from parents and legal guardians at the border is to effectively legislate against it or to restrict it by law.”
“The best way to prevent future practices of separating children from parents and legal guardians at the border is to effectively legislate against it or to restrict it by law.”
Fellowship Southwest Executive Director Stephen Reeves suggested a massive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. “The asylum process needs to be fair and just, and people who have reasonable claims need to be able to make them in a timely manner as they should under international human rights law.”
Other legal pathways need to be created to prevent the buildup of migrants along the border that leads to the surges the Trump administration attempted to prevent with “zero tolerance,” he added. “We don’t have the capacity in our system to process large numbers of people in a fair and timely manner, and it often doesn’t leave them much choice on how they are going to try to come across.”
And Reeves suggested Americans take a moment to contemplate the evil behind the practice that DHS is now trying to prevent from happening again.
“Let’s comprehend the policy that was taking kids from their parents to try to deter others from trying to cross the border. That was a really sinister policy,” he said. “I think we still have some reckoning to do that our government intentionally inflected emotional distress on families to deter others from approaching or coming to our country.”
Soliciting feedback is a good place to start, said Laurence Benenson, vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Immigration Forum.
“It’s our hope that they take this feedback and they listen to what they hear from the public and the advocacy community,” Benenson told CNN. “It was a moral outrage when the previous administration engaged in intentional family separation, and it’s important that DHS going forward takes steps to prevent something like zero tolerance from ever happening again.”
The request for comment is part of an ongoing Biden administration effort that began in February with an executive order creating the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families.
The group coordinates with other federal agencies and non-governmental organizations to identify migrants separated under the zero-tolerance policy and work toward reunification. “Families reunified in the United States, or those seeking to enter the United States for the purposes of reunification, are eligible for humanitarian parole and to receive support services,” DHS said.
In its June report to the White House, the task force said it had identified 3,913 children separated under the Trump policy from July 1, 2017, to Jan. 20, 2021. With the help of non-governmental organizations, 1,779 of those children and their families had been reunited.
“There are 2,127 children for whom the task force does not have a confirmed record of reunification, DHS explained. “Additional reunifications are in process and the task force expects that the pace will increase as procedures fall into place.”