Oct 16, 2023 - Politics & Policy

DOJ reaches settlement in Trump-era border separation case

People demonstrate in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2018, demanding an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration reached a settlement Monday in a major class action lawsuit brought by migrants separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under former President Trump.

Why it matters: The settlement announcement comes more than five years after Trump's most infamous border policy was implemented in spring 2018 — and as officials still work to identify and reunify families who remain separated.

The details: If approved by a judge, the settlement will limit when immigration officials are allowed to separate migrant minors from their parents or legal guardians for eight years.

  • It will also enable the federal government to continue its efforts to find and reunite families who were separated under the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, including reuniting certain family members not directly impacted by the separation process.
  • The government will also provide non-monetary assistance for migrants' health care, housing and legal needs — including allowing them an expedited asylum process, as well as the opportunity to receive parole in the U.S.

Context: The Trump administration's policy resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families at the border.

  • The policy generated significant backlash for Trump, even among the GOP, but remained in place until June 2018 when Trump ended the program via an executive order.
  • Later that month, the Trump administration was ordered by a federal judge to reunite children with their families within 30 days, or sometimes as little as two weeks, depending on the child's age.
  • After Biden took office in January 2021, he signed an executive order to create the reunification task force, charged with reuniting families separated under the policy.

What they're saying: "The practice of separating families at the southwest border was shameful," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "This agreement will facilitate the reunification of separated families and provide them with critical services to aid in their recovery."

  • "Although no settlement can ever erase this tragic episode, the settlement is a critical step forward to help the thousands of families that were so brutally separated by the Trump administration," Lee Gelernt, lead counsel for the ACLU, which brought the case, said in a statement to Axios.
  • "The settlement will allow these little children to finally see their parents after years of separation and permit the families to seek permanent status in the U.S. through a special asylum process. It will also prohibit such a cruel policy in the future," Gelernt added.

What to watch: The reunification task force has brought together the families of more than 770 children since January 2021, according to administration officials.

  • 85 additional children are currently in the process of being reunited with their families, officials said.
  • In total, with help from non-government organizations, more than 3,000 kids who had been separated from their parents have been reunified.
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