On February 2, 2021, President Biden established the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families. Two years later, under the leadership of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Task Force continues its tireless work to identify the remaining separated children, facilitate their reunification with their families, provide needed support services to reunified families, and prevent future family separations. The Task Force has now reunited more than 600 children who were separated from their families under the prior administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
Throughout the past two years, the Task Force has relentlessly pursued its mission of finding separated families and providing them the opportunity for reunification. We commend our co-chair members, the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and State for their steadfast commitment to leveraging an all-of-government approach in support of these families. We thank our non-governmental organization (NGO) partners who have stood by the families and gone the extra mile to support their reunifications since even before the Task Force’s creation.
Challenges Inherited When the Task Force was Established
When the Task Force began its work, the information known about the families who had been separated was patchwork at best, pieced together from segmented documentation compiled through the Ms. L. v. ICE litigation. The information from the Ms. L litigation did not cover the full-time span of family separations.
By combing U.S. government records and coordinating with NGO partners to identify the separated children and their parents, the Task Force has to date identified 3,924 children who were separated between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021. As of February 1, 2023, 2,926 separated children have been reunified, either before the establishment of the Task Force or through the leadership of the Task Force. Of the 998 children who remain to be reunited, as of February 1, 2023, 148 children are in the process of reunification and 183 families have been informed of the opportunity to reunify by a contracted NGO. The number of new families identified continues to increase, as families come forward and identify themselves as separated under the previous administration’s zero-tolerance policy.
We have directly engaged with separated families to share information on how to access reunification services and respond to their unique circumstances. Secretary Mayorkas has met with recently reunified families to hear directly from them and better understand their experiences and current needs. The Task Force Executive Director Michelle Brané traveled to Guatemala to amplify the reunification message to families in their home country. Additionally, the Task Force has traveled to the southwest border multiple times to understand how DHS is currently processing families encountered at the border and advise on prioritizing family unity principles in future policies per the President’s commitment in Executive Order 14011.
Progress Made to Support and Reunify Families
We have made significant progress toward reunifying families and providing them with necessary services and support. NGO and international partners continue to support the Task Force efforts to conduct outreach and provide critical information and support to separated families. As families register for reunification services through Together.gov/Juntos.gov, they are connected with support services through our contracted partner, the International Organization for Migration. Families receive support in applying for humanitarian parole, arranging travel to the United States, and once here, accessing behavioral health services from a trusted provider. To date, we have helped separated families in the following ways:
- Reached 1,124 separated families through a Department of State funded project with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a DHS funded project with the Department of Health and Human Services, finding families in their home country and the United States, and educating them on how to access reunification services.
- Referred 1,999 families through the registration process on Together.gov/Juntos.gov and referred eligible families to IOM to complete the humanitarian parole request process.
- Provided 735 families with behavioral health case management services and provided 385 families with behavioral health assessments and treatment.
Ongoing Efforts and Looking to the Future
We have made great strides over the past two years in reunifying separated families and fulfilling its mandate. This critical work will continue until all separated families that can be found have been provided the opportunity to reunify. The Task Force is working closely with colleagues across DHS and other federal agencies to develop policies to prioritize family unity, protect against future family separations, and reunify any remaining separated families. We will not stop until all the separated families are afforded the opportunity for reunification.