ICE updates policies to prioritize keeping migrant families together

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Asylum seekers line up for food near El Chaparral square in Tijuana, Mexico, March 21, 2021. The Biden administration on Thursday issued a memo ordering border agents to guard migrant families together. File photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License picture

July 14 (UPI) — The Biden administration issued a memo on Thursday directing border agents to prioritize keeping families of migrants crossing the border into the United States together.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson said officers should ensure arrested adult migrants can maintain contact with their children and participate in any related legal proceedings. The directive applies to any incapable adult whose migrant adult serves as guardian or carer.

“In the performance of their duties, our officers and special constables will to the greatest extent possible preserve family unity and the parental rights of non-citizen parents and legal guardians,” Johnson said.

“ICE will ensure that our civil immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily interfere with or infringe the parental or guardianship rights of non-citizen parents or legal guardians of minor children or incapable adults.

The ICE directive follows a Trump-era policy that separated arrested parents from their children at the US-Mexico border. The policy has seen thousands of children placed in institutions, sometimes in different states from their parents.

The memo says ICE officers are to identify parents or legal guardians and their children by “inquiring affirmatively” about their status. The agency will also establish new procedures for placement of parents and children to ensure access for visitation.

ICE said the new policy will take effect immediately, with full implementation in the coming months.

In December, the Biden administration abandoned negotiations to provide cash payments to thousands of migrant families who were separated under former President Donald Trump’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy.

Upon taking office in 2021, President Joe Biden tasked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas with reuniting families still separated under the policy. Biden called the splits “criminal” during a debate with Trump.

Human rights groups have condemned the separation policy, which separated thousands of migrant families. The American Academy of Pediatrics called the policy “government-sanctioned child abuse” and a 2021 study found that some of the separated children continued to suffer from psychological trauma, even though they had been reunited with their families.

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