US President Joe Biden (file photo) Photograph:( AFP )
The families will be allowed to enter the United States through an emergency process known as 'humanitarian parole'
The Biden administration said on Monday that four families that were separated at the Mexico border during Donald Trump's presidency will be reunited in the United States this week in what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calls ''just the beginning'' of a broader effort.
The families will be allowed to enter the United States through an emergency process known as "humanitarian parole," Michelle Brane, who heads a Biden-created task force that aims to reunite separated families, told a call with reporters on Sunday.
"In these cases that we're talking about this week, the children are in the United States and the parents are coming to join them," Brane said.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering whether they could be granted longer-term immigration status, she said.
Parents will return to the United States on humanitarian parole while authorities consider other longer-term forms of legal status, said Michelle Brane, executive director of the administration's Family Reunification Task Force. The children are already in the United States only.
Exactly how many families will reunite in the United States and in what order is linked to negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union to settle a federal lawsuit in San Diego, but Mayorkas said there were more to come.
''We continue to work tirelessly to reunite many more children with their parents in the weeks and months ahead,'' Mayorkas told reporters ahead of the announcement.
"We have a lot of work still to do, but I am proud of the progress we have made and the reunifications that we have helped to achieve this week.''
More than 5,000 children were separated from their parents during the Trump administration going back to July 1, 2017, many of them under a ''zero-tolerance'' policy to criminally prosecute any adult who entered the country illegally, according to court filings.
The reunifications begin as the Biden administration confronts the third major increase in unaccompanied children arriving at the border in seven years.
The Biden administration is doing its own count going back to Trump's inauguration in January 2017 and, according to Brane, believes more than 1,000 families remain separated.
The Biden administration has been grappling in recent months with a sharp rise in migrant crossings at the border, including unaccompanied minors and families with young children, mostly from Central America.
The Trump administration, known for its hardline stance on immigration, adopted a blanket "zero-tolerance" policy of prosecuting all unauthorized border crossers in spring 2018, resulting in the mass separation of parents from their children.
Trump reversed the policy that summer amid an international outcry, but advocates and government watchdogs found separations began before the policy and continued after it. In some cases, parents were deported and children remained in the United States with other relatives or sponsors.
Biden has called family separations under Trump a "human tragedy."
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who also participated in the call with reporters, declined to provide details about the families, citing privacy concerns, but noted that one is Honduran and another Mexican.
(With inputs from agencies)