Separated Children and the Biden Administration

Erick Widman

The Biden administration has released a fact sheet showing that almost 1,000 children who were separated from their families at the US southern border by the Trump administration have still not been reunited. The fact sheet marks the two-year anniversary of President Biden’s Interagency Task Force on Reunification of Families and highlights that the consequences of the Trump administration’s family separation policy are ongoing.

Between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021, 3,924 children were separated from their parents, and as of February 2, 2023, 998 children remain separated. Over 600 children have been reunited with their families, and 331 children are in the process of reunification or have been informed about the opportunity to reunify. However, over 600 children still remain separated without a clear possibility of reunification. The government also notes that the actual number of separated families may be higher since not all families have been identified.

The Trump administration began separating families at the US-Mexico border in 2017 to deter parents from entering the United States. In 2018, the administration formally announced a “zero tolerance” policy, which involved criminally prosecuting all adults who crossed the border without proper documents, including parents with young children. Under this policy, children were separated from their parents and placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The government implemented this policy despite warnings that it would cause long-lasting traumatic injury to children. The ORR was unprepared to handle the sudden influx of traumatized, separated children in its care. The government separated thousands of families without adequate systems to track the children and parents or reunite them. Children were unable to speak to their parents for weeks or months after separation, and many parents did not know where their children had been taken.

Public outcry ensued after reports of these separations, including an audio recording of recently separated children screaming for their parents. President Trump signed an executive order supposedly ending family separation in June 2018, and the government began tracking and reuniting families after a federal judge ordered it to do so later that month. However, the government deported hundreds of parents without their children before the court’s ruling.

Some separated families have filed lawsuits against the government seeking compensation for the psychological trauma caused by the family separation policy. The Biden administration has continued the work of reunifying families through the Family Reunification task force, but it has also resisted providing financial compensation to the victims of family separation, despite denouncing the policy publicly.

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