WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is touting the U.S. reunion this week of four families split apart by the Trump administration’s separation policy, framing it as a key moment in a broader, more humanitarian approach to immigration, in contrast with the “cruelty” of the president’s predecessor.
Yet lawyers and advocates who have been working for several years on tracking down and reuniting children and parents separated under former President Donald Trump say these reunions could have happened months ago. More than 5,000 children were separated from their parents under the Trump administration, according to court filings.
One of the four families that will be reunited are a mother and son who will meet Tuesday in California after being apart more than three years.
On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said a task force established by a February executive order has been “working day and night” to address what he called the Trump administration’s “cruel separation of children from their parents.”
“Today is just the beginning,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “We are reuniting the first group of families, many more will follow, and we recognize the importance of providing these families with the stability and resources they need to heal.”
But some attorneys expressed frustration at what they described as foot-dragging and Biden officials taking credit for advocates’ work.
Carol Anne Donohoe, managing attorney for the family reunification project at Al Otro Lado, said the nonprofit represents three of the four families — and roughly three dozen other parents deported without their children who were identified “since day one” and have been waiting to return to the United States to reunite with them, some for years.
“They could’ve returned a lot sooner,” Donohoe said. “Every day that they’ve had to wait is not only a day without their child; it’s another day that they’ve been at risk of harm.”
“I can’t speak to the politics or the reasons,” she said of the Biden administration’s delay, “but there comes a point where you don’t care about the politics, you don’t care about the optics. ... You do the humane thing. You stop torturing people; you stop torturing children.”
On Biden’s first day in office, he issued an executive order promising to reunite separated families “to the greatest extent possible,” but before Monday, the Family Reunification Task Force he formed in February to make good on that pledge had yet to bring together a single one.