Biden creating task force to reunite separated migrant families and reexamine Trump-era 'public charge' rule

  • President Joe Biden is creating a task force aimed at reuniting migrant children with their parents.
  • The Trump administration deported hundreds of parents while detaining their children in the US.
  • “It was a moral failure and a national shame,” said Biden official Esther Olavarria.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Joe Biden will create a task force aimed at reuniting migrant families ripped apart by his predecessor and order a review of the “public charge” rule that would allow the US government to deny residency to immigrants based solely on the perception that they might someday utilize public services, according to administration officials.

“It was a moral failure and a national shame that the prior administration used family separation as a weapon against desperate families and children,” Esther Olavarria, deputy director of the Biden administration’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters.

Over 2,600 children were separated from their parents by the Trump administration before a federal judge ordered the effort halted in 2018, according to data obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. Hundreds have been effectively orphaned, authorities unable to find their parents, a majority of whom may have been deported.

The Biden administration’s task force, created by executive order, will work with representatives for affected families and US government partners in the Americas to locate and reunite parents with their children. It will be chaired by the head of the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate is slated to vote on nominee Alejandro Mayorka on Tuesday, and if confirmed, he is expected to be sworn in that night.

President Biden is also issuing an executive order to create a “Task Force on New Americans” that will conduct a review of Trump-era regulations and “restore faith in our legal immigration system,” Olavarria said.

The order will immediately rescind a requirement that family sponsors repay the federal government should any of their relatives later receive public benefits, such as food stamps or health care. 

It also calls for a review of the “public charge” rule that the prior administration used to justify deporting or denying residency to immigrants who have or may rely on federal aid programs. That regulation has been repeatedly deemed unlawful by US courts.

A third executive order aims to draft a cohesive strategy for addressing migration from Central America.

“President Trump was so focused on the wall that he did nothing to address the root causes of why people are coming to our southern border,” Roberta Jacobson, US ambassador to Mexico from 2016 to 2018 and a member of Biden’s National Security Council, told reporters. “It was a limited, wasteful, and naive strategy. And it failed.”

As part of the review, the Biden administration will seek to help build capacity for Central American nations to host asylum-seekers themselves — not altogether different from what the Trump administration sought to do when it required those fleeing poverty and violence to seek refuge in other troubled nations they passed through on their journey to the US.

However, the Biden administration will restore an Obama initiate that allowed Central American minors to be reunited with parents who lawfully reside in the country. It will also seek, eventually, to reopen the border to asylum seekers. The DHS Secretary will undertake a review of the “Remain in Mexico” program — already suspended — that has required thousands who exercised their legal right to seek protection in the US to wait in camps south of the border while their applications are processed.

The executive orders come after President Biden introduced a comprehensive legislative proposal that would provide legal status and a path to citizenship to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US.

While President Biden has already issued a 100-day moratorium on deportations, that executive order was recently put on hold by a Trump-appointed judge. 

In the meantime, the Biden administration continues to enforce a Trump-era regulation that, citing the pandemic, allows US authorities to immediately expel asylum-seekers who cross the border without allowing them to apply for protection.

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