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Updated at 5 p.m. ET
Hundreds of migrant children still separated from their parents by the Trump administration may be allowed to reunite with their families in the United States — and some families may have the opportunity to stay, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Monday.
Reuniting the families is one of the Biden administration’s top priorities, something Mayorkas described as a “moral imperative.” During former President Donald Trump’s time in office, more than 5,500 migrant children were separated from their parents when they entered the country, and more than 1,400 parents were ultimately deported without their children.
“We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin,” Mayorkas said, explaining the government hopes to give migrants the choice. “And if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and to address the family needs so we are acting as restoratively as possible,” he said, without giving details.
DHS said in a statement that the option of reuniting and staying in the United States would be provided “to the extent permissible under law” but did not provide more elaboration.
Advocates representing families who have been separated applauded the decision, but said they wanted more information.
“Of course, the devil is in the details and Secretary Mayorkas has to shed all the caveats and qualifications around his announcement and follow through with everything that’s necessary to right the wrong,” Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in a statement.
“These separated families suffered unfathomably because of what our government did, and we owe them restitution. This includes a permanent pathway to citizenship, care, and resources to help them,” Romero said.
Mayorkas called the separation of children from their families “the most powerful example of cruelty” by the Trump administration, which had pushed to curb immigration. About 105 families have already been reunited since Biden took office, he said.
It’s one of several Trump-era immigration policies that Biden’s DHS is working to reverse, but Mayorkas warned changes would not happen overnight. “It takes time to build out of the depths of cruelty that the administration before us established,” he said.