President Joe Biden’s administration announced this week that it will allow migrant family members separated from one another at the U.S. border to be reunited inside the U.S., and a plan for them to remain in the U.S. indefinitely.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the reunification plan in a White House press briefing on Monday.
“We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in their country of origin,” Mayorkas said. “We hope to be in a position to give them the election and if in fact they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and to address the family needs.”
During his remarks, Mayorkas criticized what he described as “the most powerful and heartbreaking example of the cruelty that preceded this administration,” referring to the Trump administration policy of placing children who crossed the border in separate locations from adults who crossed the border, in many cases separating children from their parents.
Mayorkas, who also serves as the chairman of Biden’s Family Reunification Task Force, said the administration has a moral imperative to reunite separated families.
Mayorkas said he spoke on Friday with the ministers of foreign affairs for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and said the U.S. is working with those countries, as well as non-government organizations, to assist in the reunification process.
“This is not only an all of government but all of society effort,” Mayorkas said.
During the press briefing, Mayorkas said the Trump administration had “gutted” the immigration system. “What we are seeing now at the border is the immediate result of the dismantling of the system and the time it takes to rebuild it virtually from scratch.”
Asked if he believes there is a crisis at the border currently, Mayorkas said no, but said “I think there is a challenge at the border, that we are managing and we have our resources dedicated to managing it.”
Mayorkas said, “The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock seven days a week to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border—that we manage the challenge, as acute as the challenge is.”
Jeh Johnsons, who served as the DHS secretary under President Barack Obama, said a thousand illegal crossings at the U.S. border constitutes a crisis and overwhelms the U.S. border security system. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an average of 3,000 individuals were arrested per day attempting to cross the border into the U.S. in January.
Addressing those numbers, Mayorkas said border officials are “challenged” but “are meeting that challenge” and working to expand the capacity to handle those illegal crossings.