Joe Biden Better Allow Reunited Migrant Families to Stay

When a parent and their child are forcibly separated by hundreds of miles, every second apart is excruciating—and every delay is torture, no matter the justification.

That urgency is what immigration advocates, attorneys and activists are increasingly anxious to convey to President Joe Biden after he signed three executive orders relating to immigration on Tuesday evening. The orders each begin a long and complex process to dismantle his predecessor’s defining policy legacy, but those advocating for major reform are concerned that when the well-being of children is at stake, Biden’s deliberative approach could have disastrous consequences.

“What we need now is an immediate commitment to specific remedies, including reunification in the U.S., permanent legal status, and restitution for all of the 5,500-plus families separated by the Trump administration,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who led the group’s successful legal fight against family separation. “Anything short of that will be extremely troubling given that the U.S. government engaged in deliberate child abuse.”

In the view of those who have been fighting the legal battles against Trump’s immigration policies for years, immigrant communities are in need of direct, concrete action—and aren’t in a position to wait for a task force’s review in order.

“As President Biden signs these orders, some 20,000 migrants are languishing in dangerous conditions just south of the border because of the disastrous Migrant Protection Protocols,” said Kelli Garcia, federal policy counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund. “While the long-term vision offered in these orders is admirable, the administration must recognize that its predecessors, in an effort to deter migration, embraced callous policies like family separation and [the Migrant Protection Protocols] not in spite of the known harm it would cause but because of it.”

Biden’s trio of executive orders—one creating a task force for family reunification, and two aimed at reviewing former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies that impeded asylum access, granting of permanent residency and other avenues to legal immigration—are intended not to make new law, but to “eliminat[e] bad policy,” as the president put it during a signing ceremony in the Oval Office.

“We’re going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, ripped children from the arms of their families… with no plan, none whatsoever, to reunify children,” Biden said.

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