The United States will begin reuniting migrant children with their parents this week after they were separated by the administration of former President Donald Trump, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorka said Monday.
Mayorkas tweeted that four mothers who had fled “extremely dangerous situations in their home countries” would be reunited with children as young as three years old.
“We are delighted that the reunification process is starting this week and that these four mothers will be hugging their children after so many years,” he wrote.
He added in a statement from his department that the move was “just the beginning.”
“We are reuniting the first family, many more will follow and we realize the importance of giving these families the stability and resources they need to heal.”
President Joe Biden has prioritized a special working group to reunite hundreds of families as part of his sweeping return of Trump’s tough policies, which focused on discouraging migration from Central America.
Biden has called the family separations a “moral failure and a national shame.”
Trump announced his zero-tolerance policy against undocumented migrants in 2018 and declared that they would be arrested and charged with a crime.
As part of the new regime, children were separated from their parents on a promise that the families would be reunited within a few weeks. But this did not happen in thousands of cases.
A public outcry and lawsuits forced the Trump administration to stop the separations, but for as many as 5,000 children, the damage had been done.
Trump’s immigration officials kept poor records and did little to cooperate with groups that wanted to help the children and forced more trials.
It was not clear how many children were still separated from their parents when the Biden administration took over, but estimates put it as high as 1,000.
Many of them come from rural, inaccessible mountain communities, with the even harder reunification of the coronavirus pandemic and two hurricanes that ravaged Central America last fall.
The working group created by Biden has “worked tirelessly to establish a complete database of separate families, correct inaccuracies in the files they received, and build the processes to find each family and give them the opportunity to reunite and heal,” the home security statement said.
It did not clarify whether the children are allowed to stay in the US legally with their parents.