WASHINGTON – Parents who were separated from their children at the border under the last administration could be allowed to live in the United States after they’re reunited, the Biden administration announced Monday.
“We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at the White House news briefing.
If the families choose to reunite in the United States, he said, the administration will “explore lawful pathways for them to remain.”
His comments came hours before he was set to participate in a virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Mexico President Andrés Manuel López.
Biden has started to unwind several of former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, and he’s promised better relations with Mexico.
In a further break with the past administration,Mayorkas on Monday described the border situation as a “challenge” that is being managed, and not a crisis.
But Biden faces pressure from both the left and the right.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last week criticized the reopening of a shelter to house unaccompanied teenagers crossing the border from Mexico.
“This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party,” she tweeted.
In remarks at a gathering of conservative activists on Sunday, Trump urged Republicans to block Biden’s sweeping immigration legislation which includes a path to citizenship for roughly 11 million migrants living without legal status in the USA.
“Border security is just one of the many issues on which the new administration has already betrayed the American people,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Donald Trump at CPAC:Ex-president tears into Biden and his Republican critics; revives ‘rigged’ election lie
Biden’s immigration bill:Democrats unveil legislation that includes an eight-year path to citizenship
López Obrador has his own proposal. He’s expected to talk to Biden about a “Bracero”-style labor program that would allow Mexicans to temporarily live in the United States. He’ll argue that the U.S. economy needs Mexico’s young and strong workers to boost its aging workforce.
Asked Monday if Biden is receptive to that idea, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to say, while noting that such a plan would likely have to be approved by Congress.
In addition to immigration issues, the two leaders are also expected to discuss climate change and the pandemic.
Any request from López Obrador for the U.S. to share COVID-19 vaccines with Mexico will be declined while Biden focuses on getting U.S. citizens vaccinated, Psaki said.
Upon taking office, Biden halted construction on the wall along the U.S.-Mexican border that Trump initiated, falsely claiming that Mexico would pay for it.
Biden also established a task force to reunify children separated from their parents or guardians at the border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy and placed a 100-day halt on most deportations, not at the U.S. border but from within the country’s interior. A Texas federal judge temporarily struck down Biden’s deportation moratorium, allowing the deportations to continue.
But while the administration is taking a “new approach” to regional migration, multiple White House officials have urged those seeking to cross the border to be patient.
“We are not saying don’t come,” Mayorkas said Monday. “We are saying don’t come now, because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.”
He accused the Trump administration of having “dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety,” and said it will take time to rebuild it “out of the depths of cruelty.”
The administration continues to turn away most migrants at the border due to concerns over the coronavirus, essentially keeping in place a Trump policy that quickly turned back nearly all asylum-seekers.
The administration has also defended the reopening of a facility in Texas to house unaccompanied migrant teens. Critics have asked how that housing squares with Biden’s previous charge that Trump was putting “kids in cages.”
Psaki has said the facility is needed to meet the social distancing requirements of COVID and that housing the teens was preferable to turning them back at the border or connecting them with U.S. sponsors before the sponsors could be vetted.
“This is a difficult choice but that’s one that we felt was the right one, the most humane one,” Psaki told “Fox News Sunday.”
When Biden spoke by phone with López Obrador a few days after taking office, he outlined the changes he planned to make, including addressing the root causes of migration.
During a virtual tour of the Texas and Mexico border on Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States will work with Central American countries “to address the heartbreaking reasons why people are risking their lives and safety to make it into the United States at any cost.
“It’s dangerous for them,” he said, “and it goes against our laws.”
Contributing: Associated Press.