Biden to sign immigration orders on asylum seekers and reuniting families

President to ‘review’ Trump-era asylum policies and create task force to reunite families separated at US-Mexico border under ‘zero tolerance’

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 02 February 2021 10:21 GMT
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President Joe Biden is set to sign three more executive orders targeting immigration reform, including the creation of a task force to begin a process to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border by the federal government.

The president’s executive order on family reunification will seek to identify all minor children separated by their parents or legal guardians at the border under Donald Trump's “zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting migrants for “illegal entry” at the southern border, which resulted in hundreds of separated families and imprisoned children in 2018.

More than 5,500 families were separated during the Trump administration’s four-year term, though many of those families were reunited. Immigrant advocates are still searching for more than 600 parents, while more than 1,400 others who were deported without their children have now spent years separated from their families in the countries they fled in the first place.

A senior administration official said the order broadly defines the “zero tolerance” era to also include the Trump administration’s earlier test of the policy in El Paso, Texas, during which hundreds of other families were separated and deported.

Read more: Follow live updates on the Biden administration

Another measure will review the underlying causes of migration from Central and South America into the US “to confront the instability, violence and economic insecurity that currently drives migrants from their homes.”

That executive order will also direct the administration to work with foreign governments, international aid groups and nonprofit organisations to “provide protection and opportunities to asylum seekers and migrants closer to home."

The order also directs a review of the Migrant Protection Protocol programme – the so-called Remain in Mexico policy – that has allowed US border enforcement to send thousands of asylum seekers to potentially dangerous areas in Mexico while their claims are pending in US courts. 

It orders a “series of actions” to restore the nation’s asylum system by “rescinding and directing agency review of a host of Trump Administration proclamations, rules, and guidance documents that have effectively closed the US border to asylum seekers" in an attempt to deter would-be migrants, resulting in a humanitarian crisis at the nation’s doorstep, immigrant advocates argue.

The government is expected to keep in place an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that has been in effect since last spring that continues to turn away asylum seekers.

It also is unclear whether the government will expedite or eliminate cases for an estimated 20,000 migrants in Mexico with pending asylum cases while the Remain in Mexico policy is under review.

A third executive order on “immigrant integration and inclusion” promises to "streamline the naturalisation process” and will create a White House Task Force on New Americans.

The measure revokes a Trump-era memo that required family sponsors to repay the government if relatives receive public benefits, and orders agencies to “review” the public charge rule, which denies permanent resident status to immigrants who relied on public benefits, such as food stamps or housing assistance, for longer than a certain period of time.

President Biden’s executive orders follow several actions targeting the core of his predecessor’s anti-immigration agenda, including rescinding a ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries and suspending construction of a border wall.

Immigration advocates and civil rights groups have urged the administration to return and reunite deported families separated from their children and provide them with healthcare and supportive resources following months of trauma.

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