[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from the ACLU.]
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — During a week when the Remain in Mexico, or Migrant Protection Protocols program was reimplemented on the Southwest border, the Department of Homeland Security is asking the public for input on ways to help avoid families being separated at the border.
In a posting Friday in the Federal Register, DHS officials said the Biden administration is asking for suggestions to “help protect against the prior administration’s practice of intentionally separating families.”
Comments will be accepted for 30 days until Jan. 10 and can be submitted here in the Federal Register.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration wants to permanently protect against the separation of families.
“It is unconscionable to separate children from their parents as a means to deter migration,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “I have met with separated families and heard firsthand of the immense trauma they have suffered. We have an obligation to reunite separated families and ensure this cruel practice never happens again.”
An estimated 5,500 children and their parents and legal guardians were separated at the border beginning in 2018 under the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy. Many separations happened in South Texas when families were separated at the Border Patrol intake station in McAllen.
Public comments will be sent to the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families. That task force was established by President Joe Biden in February and works with non-governmental organizations and other agencies to help reunite families and better identify migrants to prevent family separations.
Mayorkas heads that task force that is in the process of putting together a report on family separations in the United States.
In October, a task force member told CBS News that they have been able to reunify only 52 families of an estimated 1,500 families that remain separated.
On Wednesday, the first migrants were sent back on the border from El Paso to Juarez, Mexico, under the newly restarted MPP program.
Mayorkas has been vocal in his opposition to MPP but the Biden administration was forced to restart the program under a court order after the states of Texas and Missouri sued the federal government saying the program is necessary to keep out migrants who do not qualify for asylum in the United States.
Last month, President Biden said that the families of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration should be compensated, and that the Department of Justice is in settlement talks with affected families.
However Republican lawmakers have vehimently opposed any plans to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to migrant families separated at the border.
There has been no announcement of settlements reached.
The ACLU, which filed a lawsuit to stop family separation, said of Monday’s request for public input that children should never be separated from their families.
“Requesting public input is fine, but it is clear the United States should never again take children away absent imminent danger to the child; otherwise, we are engaging in child abuse,” said Lee Gelernt of the ACLU and lead lawyer in the Ms. L v ICE lawsuit that ended the family separation practice.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.