The Trump administration took more than 3,900 kids from their parents. More than half remain separated.

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A volunteer with pro-immigration group Families Belong Together, attaches one of 600 teddy bears to a chainlink cage which ‘representing the children still separated as a result of U.S. immigration policies’ on the National Mall November 16, 2020 in Washington, DC.

  • A total of 3,913 migrant children were separated by the Trump administration, DHS said Tuesday.
  • Of them, just 1,786 have been reunited with their parents, the department said.
  • President Joe Biden has ordered DHS to reunite the remaining 2,127 children.
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More than half of the nearly 4,000 children separated from their families by the Trump administration remain estranged from their parents, the Department of Homeland Security revealed in a new report on Tuesday.

As part of its effort to discourage Central Americans from exercising their legal right to seek asylum, the previous administration forced parents to choose: get deported as a family unit or leave the kids behind so that they can pursue their claims in the relative safety of the United States.

Still, as DHS’s Inspector General said in a May report, some 348 parents and children were separated against their apparent wishes.

Now a new report, from DHS’s Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families, shows the full impact of that separation policy, which the previous White House abandoned after a public outcry.

The task force, created by an executive order from President Joe Biden, identified 3,913 children as having been separated from their parents during the last administration. Of them, 1,786 “have already been reunified with their parent,” the report said.

That leaves 2,127 children who are still separated from their parents.

The report hints at how long it may take to find their parents, if they are indeed able to found back in their home countries – primarily Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In the previous 30 days, DHS said, the department was able to reunite just 7 children with their parents.

As CBS News reported, once reunited, families are granted access to mental health services and are eligible for “three years of protection from deportation to try to acquire work permits.”

But speaking to KQED, Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued over the family separation policy, said he believes that the number of parents who have not been found is actually lower than DHS suggests. According to the ACLU, the parents of 391 children have not been located.

“The other group are families who have been contacted by us, but were not reunited because the Trump administration only gave them two brutal choices: remain permanently separated from your child, or have your child come back to your home country and back to the very danger from which they fled,” Gelernt said.

Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim, a nonprofit representing the Maya community in Nebraska, said it has been consulting with the DHS task force. It believes many of the remaining children come from indigenous communities in the Americas, complicating the reunification process as these communities are typically the most isolated and impoverished.

“The majority of the children still lost and not returned to their families are Maya,” the group said in a statement on Twitter, a fact it lamented was not acknowledged in the DHS report. “Indigenous erasure will only add further harm,” it said, noting the attacks on their rights in countries such as Guatemala is what drives them “to seek asylum and refugee status in the US.”

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DHS secretary says Biden admin cannot guarantee permanent residency in US for families separated by Trump

Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. Mayorkas discussed the Biden administration’s plans for overhauling immigration policy.

  • DHS Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas spoke to MSNBC about families separated by the Trump administration.
  • He said that the administration cannot guarantee a path to permanent residency for reunited families.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told MSNBC on Thursday that the Biden administration cannot guarantee a path to permanent residency for families separated by the Trump administration.

“We are very much focused on providing stability, but it is not something that we can guarantee at this point in time,” he said in response to a question about whether families reunited under the Biden administration’s task force could stay in the US permanently.

“Reunite the family, and then let’s work together with those representing the family to see what we can achieve under the law,” Mayorkas said.

In March, Mayorkas said that the administration would “explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States,” but did not elaborate.

The families that were forcibly separated by the last administration had sought asylum after crossing the US-Mexico border. Children were taken from their parents as part of an effort to discourage more Central Americans from exercising that legal right.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration’s task force reunited four such families who were separated by the previous White House – out of more than 1,000. The families currently enjoy temporary protected status.

“We continue to work tirelessly to reunite many more children with their parents in the weeks and months ahead,” Mayorkas said earlier this week. “We have a lot of work still to do, but I am proud of the progress we have made and the reunifications that we have helped to achieve this week.”

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The White House is expected to put a refugee advocate in charge of reuniting separated migrant families, per report

Families belong poster at WH
In June 2018, activists marched past the White House to protest the Trump administration’s separation of children from immigrant parents.

  • The Biden administration has inherited the task of reuniting migrant families separated under Trump.
  • NBC News reported that the White House is likely to put a refugee advocate in charge of the effort.
  • Michelle Brané would be a welcome leader to the task force which is mostly made up of government officials.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

In a move likely to please the immigration community, the Biden Administration is expected to name a refugee advocate as executive director of the task force charged with reunifying migrant families that were split up under former President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” family separation policy, according to NBC News.

Sources told the outlet that if chosen, Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice programs at the Women’s Refugee Commission, would oversee the task force’s day-to-day operations as it works to reunite nearly 550 children who were separated from their parents at the US southern border under the Trump Administration in 2018 and in pilot programs preceding the short-lived policy’s implementation.

Brané’s organization, the Women’s Refugee Committee is already part of a steering committee that a federal judge has tasked with finding the parents of the hundreds of children still separated from their families.

Insider reported earlier this month that nonprofit groups were specifically put in charge of the effort because government representatives could not necessarily be trusted.

Brané would be a welcome leader to the inter-agency task force which is mostly made up of government officials, NBC News reported.

Around 2,000 kids separated under the formal policy have already been reunited with their parents, and 600 more are either with sponsors in the US or have already reached legal age, Felipe De La Hoz reported for Insider. 

But late last year, ACLU lawyers said they hadn’t been able to contact the parents of 545 migrant children, and lawyers estimated that the administration had already deported two-thirds of those parents back to Central America without their children.

Though Trump ended his “zero-tolerance” policy in June 2018 after public outcry, the Biden Administration has inherited the court-ordered effort to reunify those still separated nearly three years later.

The process of reunifying families is tedious and delicate work, requiring a combination of combing through government data and deploying on-the-ground connections, De La Hoz wrote for Insider.

Read more: Meet the little-known power player with the ‘hardest job’ on Capitol Hill. She’s shaping Trump’s impeachment trial and Joe Biden’s agenda.

One source familiar with the matter told NBC News that Brané’s role would be “essential to the success of the task force,” which is chaired by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“Michelle Brané is widely recognized as a leading expert on protection of at risk children and families displaced by violence and persecution in Central America. I can’t imagine anyone else who would be better for the job of leading the effort to right the wrongs inflicted on families separated at the border by the Trump administration,” Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense told NBC News.

Brané declined to comment to NBC News. 

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Trump and top White House aides ‘aggressively’ pushed for the family separation policy at the border, new Justice Department Inspector General report finds

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  • A new Justice Department report directly implicated President Donald Trump in the zero-tolerance family separation policy at the US-Mexico border. 
  • Trump has repeatedly tried to distance himself from the policy that stripped children away from their migrant parents. 
  • In late October, ACLU lawyers said the parents of 545 children could not be located. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump and top White House aides “aggressively” pushed for the policy that led to children being separated from their immigrant parents at the border, a new Justice Department report

Gene Hamilton, a top official wrote in the report that the policy was enacted after complaints from Trump and others in the White House. 

“The attorney general was aware of White House desires for further action related to combating illegal immigration,” Hamilton said in the report. 

Hamilton said that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions got the impression that he needed to take quick action on the issue. Sessions then told Hamilton to draft a memo that would put in effect a zero-tolerance approach to immigration enforcement at the border,” on April 3 2018. 

In October 2020, a draft report from the department’s inspector general found that Sessions’ and other top Justice Department officials were “a driving force” behind the policy at the US-Mexico border. 

That draft report, based on Michael Horowitz’s investigation into the “zero tolerance” policy, said Sessions and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein called for the separation of children from parents no matter how young they were. 

The New York Times reported that based on notes from two separate interviews with Sessions and Rosenstein, law enforcement officials were pushing for the policy based on the pressure from Trump. 

In a May 11, 2018 meeting Sessions told prosecutors that Trump was “very intense, very focused” on the border issue, The Times reported. 

Sessions also told prosecutors: “We need to take away children.”

Rosenstein did not reply to Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication but told The Times he was regretful for his role. 

“Since leaving the department, I have often asked myself what we should have done differently, and no issue has dominated my thinking more than the zero-tolerance immigration policy,” he said. “It was a failed policy that never should have been proposed or implemented. I wish we all had done better.”

In the October draft report, Rosenstein allegedly doubled down on Sessions’ command for prosecutors to take away children. 

He told the prosecutors that they should not have refused to prosecute two cases because the kids were very young, The Times reported.

Read more: Joe Biden is hiring about 4,000 political staffers to work in his administration. Here’s how 3 experts say you can boost your chances of getting one of those jobs.

The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

Women who were breastfeeding have said immigration authorities separated them from their babies at the border. In October, The Times reported the draft report seemed to confirm this, with a prosecutor writing, “I did not believe this until I looked at the duty log.”

In a court filing sent at the end of October 2020, Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said they couldn’t find the parents of 545 migrant children that were separated as a result of the Trump administration policy. They added that they believed that “approximately two-thirds” of those parents were deported without their children. 

During several instances, Trump and other administration officials have tried to distance themselves from the policy. The president at one point even falsely claimed that Democrats were behind the policy.

The White House did not reply to a request for comment at the time of publication. 

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