Reuniting families at border yet to become priority of Biden Administration


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Protesters nationwide have been advocating for years for split up families at the border to once again be brought together again. Whether or not the Biden Administration will follow through with their alleged plans to reunite families is up in the air.

Children at the border suffer from fear, hunger, sleeplessness and the most devastating pain of all: forceful separation from their loved ones. The “zero tolerance” policy imposed by the Trump administration, which allowed U.S. officials to separate children from their families at the border, became one of the most controversial policies enacted during the 45th president’s tenure in office.  

In order to truly understand the crisis that is occurring in the U.S.-Mexico border, one must ask the bigger question: why do these Latin American families risk their lives to come to the United States? “For a better future” is the simple answer. The complex answer? To get away from their home countries—mainly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—that are plagued with corruption and some of the world’s highest violence and homicide rates. Since 2015, the U.S. Congress has had a bipartisan agreement of sending roughly $750 million in aid for Central American countries through funding programs for children-at-risk and the creation of jobs in the region. However, that is not enough to change the political and economic turmoil in the Central American countries. If anything, the U.S. government has focused on border control instead of where the problem actually arises. This is evident through their spending. It is estimated that over $20 billion dollars is spent on keeping order at the border, while less than $1 billion is spent through the bipartisan agreement. Keeping these families from migrating is not as simple as it seems.

In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, under the Trump administration, announced the “zero tolerance” policy in which all border crossers would be criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or illegal reentry to the United States — with no exceptions for asylum seekers and/or family. Accompanying children who are not permitted to be housed in an adult criminal center were to be labeled as unaccompanied alien children. They were then to be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and put into one of over 100 shelters; from there, the children would stay at the center or be put into the foster care system. It wasn’t until after the adults were tried, and convicted if found guilty, that parents and family were able to be reunited in an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention facility. The amount of time separated from a parent, uncle, or other relative can vary. The immense trauma children would go through is something that the policy’s authors didn’t seem to think nor care about. 

On February 2, 2021, President Biden signed three executive orders aimed at taking down the previous president’s policies on immigration. One of those executive orders included a task force to reunite the estimated 661 children that have remained separate from their parents. The executive order was a step forward to help organizations such as Justice in Motion and Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) reunite children with their parents and families across all of Latin America by giving them the necessary information and resources. It had been reported that the U.S. government distributed outdated or inaccurate contact information, making it harder to locate the children’s families. However, the Biden Administration is still dealing with increasing numbers of migrant children crossing the border. The end of a cruel policy has occurred, but even some of President Biden’s most ardent supporters have criticized the administration’s lack of humane plans after ending the harmful policies of their predecessor. Joe Biden’s promise to rebuild the immigration system is still yet to be fulfilled. Actions, instead of words, will be needed. 

It is no secret that the last three U.S. presidents have dealt with the growing issue of separation of families. While the Trump administration enforced a controversial policy that was viewed as cruel by many, it was not the first time that children at the border had been separated for years from their families. Only time will tell whether or not President Biden and his administration’s promise of reforming the immigration system and the reunification of separated families will become a reality or just another broken promise by a populist leader.