On June 20, 2018, in response to criticism of his family separation policy, former President Trump issued an executive order entitled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation.” While the Trump Administration maintained its “Zero-Tolerance Policy” of prosecuting adults for crossing the border illegally, it stated it would now, where consistent with federal law, detain parents and children together rather than separately. In doing so, Trump acknowledged that would require a modification of the 1997 Flores Settlement, which requires that children who enter the United States with family be released from detention within three weeks. Trump’s order did not, however, make any provision for those children already separated from their parents.
President Biden revoked that executive order on February 2, 2021. He also announced the formation of an Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families, made up of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of State, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Attorney General, among others. The Task Force will be led by Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas.
President Biden has ordered the Task Force to: (1) identify all children who were separated from their families at the southern border between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021, in connection with the “Zero-Tolerance Policy” and (2) facilitate and enable the reunification of each child with their family. The Task Force will also make recommendations for mitigating the harm caused by these separations and preventing future separations. The Task Force must provide President Biden an initial progress report within 120 days and then interim reports every 60 days.
President Biden also noted that, going forward, it will be the policy of the United States not to separate children from their families, except in the most extreme circumstances where separation is necessary for a child’s safety and well-being or is required by law.