The Biden administration has ended former President Donald Trump's zero tolerance policy, which formed the basis for family separation, by attempting to prosecute any migrant who crossed the border without a permit.
A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to end the separation in 2018 – after more than 5,000 families were separated. Lawyers still can't find parents of more than 600 children. Many of the parents have been pushed back to their home countries, while others are believed to be in the United States. Biden has promised to set up a task force to deal with family reunification. An announcement is expected later this week.
The Justice Department released a memo on Tuesday evening repealing the policy, which was implemented in April 2018 under then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Acting US Attorney General Monty Wilkinson wrote Tuesday that the policy was "inconsistent with the DOJ's mandate to consider individual circumstances – including criminal history, the severity of the crime, and the possible sentence or other consequences of a conviction – in making decisions, with which individuals are to be charged the crime of crossing the border without permission.
Trump officials said that under the zero tolerance policy, they had no choice but to pursue and arrest the adults while they were sending the children to other facilities set up to manage their care. However, the officers ignored the possibility of releasing the families together, as previous administrations had done.
Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing separated families, said in a statement that the Biden administration's decision to overturn the policy was a "good start," but Congress also introduced penalties for exceeding the policy Biden has not yet embraced a proposal that would have to lift border without approval.
The government has also learned to further simplify the political investigation hearings in Congress, to grant legal status to families in the USA and, among other things, to set up a victims' fund.
“We appreciate any help the Biden government can give us in locating the remaining 600 families. However, we will be utterly disappointed if the task force's mandate is limited to finding the remaining families rather than providing relief to all of the thousands of families that have been separated, "he told Vox." All families must go to the family immediately United States will be reunited and then given permanent legal status and compensation for the abuse it suffered under the Trump administration. "
How the zero tolerance policy made family segregation possible
The Trump administration began separating families in immigration detention back in 2017, beginning with a pilot program in El Paso, Texas. The practice was later expanded along the border in the spring of 2018 when Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy.
The parents were taken into immigration custody pending deportation proceedings. Their children, meanwhile, have been sent to separate facilities to house children and in some cases have been released to other family members in the United States or to foster homes. Previous administrations would have released the families from custody together in most cases if there was not enough space in the family prisons.
When a federal judge ordered family reunification in the summer of 2018, the government could not find many of the children's parents. By then, more than 4,000 families had been separated. Some of the parents had already been deported to their home countries in Central America.
Some families have since been reunited, but lawyers are still trying to find the parents of 611 children as of Jan. 13. After public outcry, the Trump administration decided in December to provide a database of phone numbers and addresses that could help locate the parents – information it has not wanted to share with lawyers and nonprofits in over a year, alleged they didn't exist. Meanwhile, some nonprofit groups working locally in Central America went door-to-door to find the parents.
The Trump administration has stopped invoking zero-tolerance policies to segregate families en masse following the June 2018 ruling by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee. However, more than 1,100 additional families were separated on a case-by-case basis, with the finding that the parents were unable to care for their children. Officials cited DUIs and nonviolent offenses from a decade ago, the fact that parents had entered the US without permission and, in one case, that a father couldn't change diapers quickly enough to take away children, Gelearn said. He has argued that by doing so, the Trump administration violated the court order.
Exiting the policy will not change the status quo at the border
The Biden government's decision to end its zero tolerance policy is a critical step in undoing Trump's nativist legacy regarding immigration. However, it will not change how migrants are currently received on the southern border.
The Trump administration turned down virtually all migrants who arrived at the border for pandemic-related reasons in March and expelled them to Mexico. To this end, reference was made to Title 42, a section of the Public Health Safety Act that allows the US government to temporarily prevent non-citizens from entering the US “if it is in the public interest Health is required ”. This resulted in the displacement of nearly 611,000 people from March to December and will remain in effect until the CDC director determines that the continued spread of Covid-19 "no longer poses a serious public health threat".
Biden has maintained this policy so far, as has pandemic-induced travel restrictions on many non-citizens wishing to enter the country, despite immigrant advocates having argued that the U.S. can continue to protect vulnerable immigrants without harming public health. Jennifer Podkul, vice president of politics and advocacy at the Kids in Need of Defense legal aid group, said in a press release that the administration could at least create exemptions for particularly vulnerable classes of migrants.
Doris Meissner, a senior immigration officer who served as an immigration officer in the Clinton administration, has speculated that Biden will remain in place temporarily while implementing changes that “allow for a more functional system for granting asylum . ”
Some of these changes are expected as early as Friday.
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