Biden to Set Up Task Force to Reunite Families Separated at the Border
President Biden plans to form a task force to reunite immigrant families separated at the southern border under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, one of several executive orders on immigration Mr. Biden is expected to sign Tuesday.
The orders will set in motion a process that the new administration hopes will reverse a number of border policies and restrictions on legal immigration.
But the orders themselves will make no immediate changes to immigration policy. Instead, the actions signal a desire to balance competing pressures: immigration advocates hoping for swift action to undo former President Donald Trump’s policies and the danger that undoing too many restrictions at once could trigger a surge of migrants attempting to enter the U.S.
The reunification task force, which Mr. Biden pledged to create during his campaign, will charge the government with identifying all of the children who remain separated from their parents and locating those parents across Latin America, where they were likely deported.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the separated children in a continuing class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government, and other nonprofit organizations have been placing advertisements and making trips across the region to help locate deported parents. The ACLU has said in court filings it has identified more than 600 children who remain separated from their parents.
Administration officials, who briefed reporters on the plans Monday evening, said the task force would also develop recommendations on how to handle families once they were reunited. They declined to say whether parents who were deported would then be allowed to return to the U.S. legally to join their children.
The task force will be headed by Alejandro Mayorkas, Mr. Biden’s pick to be the next secretary of Homeland Security. Mr. Mayorkas is expected to be confirmed to his post by the Senate later on Tuesday, after Republicans delayed the vote over disagreements about Mr. Biden’s proposed immigration policies.
A second order will direct a review of policies the Trump administration put in place to restrict access to the asylum system for migrants crossing the border. It is expected to ask the Department of Homeland Security to review the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which Mr. Biden’s administration has indicated it hopes to scrap. On Monday, it asked the Supreme Court to cancel a coming argument on the legality of the program. The policy requires asylum seekers to live in Mexico for the duration of their immigration cases. The program was designed to eliminate the incentive of being able to live and work in the U.S. for that time, but it has left tens of thousands of asylum seekers living in dangerous Mexican border cities, where they are often targeted by drug cartels, according to human rights organizations.
A third order is expected to direct DHS to revisit a Trump administration policy known as the public-charge rule, which imposes a wealth test on applicants for permanent residency, along with a series of other policy changes that have made it tougher to become a U.S. citizen, including a planned application-fee increase.
The policies the administration plans to target can’t be easily reversed: The public-charge rule, the citizenship application fee increase and several changes to the asylum system were all enacted through regulations, meaning the new administration will need to follow the same monthslong policy-making process to cancel them.
Administration officials have also privately acknowledged that they will move slowly to undo some policies, particularly those at the border, to avoid triggering a surge of migrants seeking asylum. Such a surge could at once overwhelm cramped border patrol stations and undermine the administration’s message that it is doing all it can to protect the country from Covid-19.
None of the asylum changes Mr. Biden plans will have an immediate impact on migrants at the border if the administration leaves in place a public-health emergency order allowing border patrol agents to immediately send any migrants they arrest back to Mexico. The administration hasn’t indicated that it will lift that health emergency.