President Joe Biden has signed three executive actions targeting Donald Trump’s immigration agenda, including measures to begin reuniting families separated at the US-Mexico border and review the former administration’s asylum policies.
The president said his order will “work to undo the moral and national shame of family separations” by creating a task force to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border under the previous administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
More than 5,500 families were separated during the Trump administration’s four-year term, though many of those families were reunited. Immigrant advocates are still searching for more than 600 parents, while more than 1,400 others who were deported without their children have now spent years separated from their families in the countries they fled in the first place.
Alejandro Mayorkas – the president’s pick for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security – will lead reunification efforts. He was confirmed in the Senate on Tuesday and is set to be sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The incoming secretary is the first immigrant and Latino to lead the office.
“I want to make it clear – there’s a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders that I sign,” the president told reporters inside the Oval Office on Tuesday. “I’m not making the law. I’m eliminating bad policy.”
Immigration advocates and civil rights groups have argued that the executive actions are too limited and that the task force does not go far enough to meet the crisis at the US-Mexico border or allow hundreds of families that were deported from their children to reunite in the US.
The task force will “broadly” cover the zero-tolerance era, including a pilot program in El Paso that saw hundreds of separations, according to senior administration officials. But it’s unclear whether families who deported to the countries they fled in an effort to reunite there will be given special protections to return to the US.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, has stressed that he administration “must do more than that if it is going to fully address the family separation tragedy it inherited.”
Immigrants rights’ groups Al Otro Lado and Justice in Motion have urged the president to commit to not only return separated families but also provide them legal status and health support after enduring a traumatic separations, imprisonment and deportations.
More than 100 immigration, civil rights, faith-based and human rights groups and legal clinics have also demanded the president halt the deportation of people in ICE custody and urge the new DHS to “leave behind the racist and unfair treatment of those seeking our help, as we move towards a more just and humane system of immigration.”