Biden Set to Sign Executive Orders on Family Separation and ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy

President Joe Biden speaks during a briefing in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Joe Biden will sign executive orders on Tuesday creating a task force to reunite migrant families separated at the border and to begin a review of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy that left thousands of migrants waiting south of the border while their asylum cases were processed.

The three new orders issue directives for policy reviews, planning and recommendations, though not necessarily new policies to carry out, a sign that it will take time to undo former President Donald Trump’s actions on immigration, which numbered more than 400.

“Fully remedying [Trump’s] actions will take time and require a full government approach,” an administration official told reporters on Monday night.

“But President Biden has been very clear about restoring compassion and order to our immigration system and correcting the divisive, inhumane and immoral policies of the last four years,” the official said.

The official added that Biden’s recent actions, including a number of immigration-related executive orders the president signed on his first day in office to stop construction of the border wall, protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and to end Trump’s travel ban are “just the beginning.”

The new family reunification task force will work to identify all children separated from their parents at the border — Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy saw more than 5,500 families separated and estimates suggest that the parents of more than 600 children have yet to be located. 

The group, which will be led by Department of Homeland Security Secretary-designate Alejandro Mayorkas, will then issue recommendations to Biden and federal agencies to reunify families and to keep family separation from occurring again.

Another executive order will direct Mayorkas, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, to review the Migrant Protection Protocols program, or “Remain in Mexico” policy, that left asylum seekers to wait for their U.S. court proceedings in Mexico.

A backlog of thousands of cases has built up and the DHS announced last week it would not enroll any more asylum seekers into the program, though it did not specify what will happen to people currently in the program and only said they “should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials.”

Since the policy was introduced last year it has left some 67,000 asylum seekers to wait for their immigration hearings in Mexico. The program has helped reduce the number of migrants attempting to cross the border and has encouraged thousands of migrants already at the border to instead head back home.

Lora Ries, a senior research fellow for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, told National Review last month that ending MPP would “certainly restart the caravans” and Biden’s “homeland security would be overwhelmed.”

“If and when he ends it, I think we would see tremendous numbers at the border,” Ries said. “And then therefore asylum numbers quickly jump because of it. So, I think we’ll see gradual increases up until the point he removes MPP, and then it would jump considerably.”

Biden on Tuesday will also sign a third order to promote immigrant integration and inclusion. It will direct agencies to review the public charge policy that allowed officials to deny green cards to immigrants who used, or were considered likely to use, public assistance.

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