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DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has led the reunification efforts. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House supports permanent legal status for families separated at the border

The stance comes a year after the administration’s reunification task force was announced under the leadership of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

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The White House said this week for the first time that it supports permanent legal status for families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration.

This new attitude comes at the anniversary of the Biden administration setting up a task force to help reunite family members. 

The reunification task force was created on Feb. 2, 2021. The administration has been working to unite entire families, meaning siblings of separated children would be eligible for permanent legal status if Congress passes legislation that aligns with the White House’s goal. 

“We are advocating to Congress that they provide these individuals with legal status — that requires a statutory change,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NBC News

"The White House is 100 percent supportive of it, as am I, and we continue to advocate vigorously for it," Mayorkas said Monday.

When questioned about the matter on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “We stand by Secretary Mayorkas.” 

This week, the executive director of the task force, Michelle Brané, said that as many as 1,200 families remain separated. About 130 have been reunited since Biden took office, and 400 or more reunifications are in the works. 

“Some of those families have reunified on their own and we just don’t have documentation of that. But we will continue to do outreach to all of those families until we find out,” Brané told NBC News

Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and a pilot program that came before, more than 5,500 children were separated from their parents. 

In a 2020 investigation of 17 adults and nine children who had been separated under the policy for an average of 60-69 days, Physicians for Human Rights concluded that the government’s treatment of asylum seekers “constitutes cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” and rises to the level of torture, as defined by the United Nations. 

"I myself have met with some of the separated families. I learned firsthand the trauma that they endured and some continue to endure, and it is that that motivates us to make sure that any family that was separated by the prior administration is brought together again," Mayorkas said.

Democratic lawmakers last year introduced legislation that would provide a pathway to permanent legal status. The bill has not advanced in the House or the Senate.

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