Joe Biden has announced plans to identify and reunite hundreds of families who were separated at the US-Mexico border by the Trump administration and remain apart years later.
Mr Biden will create a new task force to reunite families through an executive order, following through on a campaign promise to undo some of the damage inflicted by the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policy.
Officials did not yet have details on the scale or timing of the effort, but said that the task force would make recommendations on how separated parents and children could be brought back together.
The task force, according to a senior administration official, will “work across the US government, with key stakeholders and representatives of impacted families, and with partners across the hemisphere to find parents and children separated by the Trump administration”.
Between July 2017 and June 2018, the Trump administration separated at least 5,500 children from their parents along the border in an attempt to deter migration.
The American Civil Liberties Union says that at least 1,000 of those families are likely to remain separated – parents scattered mostly across Central America and children living with relatives in the United States.
“The first order of the task force will be to get a better handle on these numbers and start reuniting children with their parents,” said the senior administration official.
Because of poor government record keeping, it remains unclear how many parents were deported without their children and where they are currently living.
Attorneys and advocates have been unable to find hundreds of separated families, in some cases sending search parties into remote parts of Central America in attempts to locate them.
Many of those parents have spent the past two or three years trying to raise their children over video calls.
Some returned to the US border in the hopes of finding their children but were once again apprehended by immigration agents and deported a second time.
“It’s a daily horror for us who are living without our children. It’s an endless sadness,” said Maria, a Guatemalan mother of a 10-year-old girl who was separated on the Arizona-Mexico border in 2017.
“I tell my daughter to have patience. ‘Very soon we’ll see each other,’ I say."
Like many separated parents, she watched the US election closely, knowing that a victory for Mr Biden would improve her chances of seeing her daughter again, but she has since struggled to discern what the plan is for parents like her, or any timeline for her possible family reunification.
Advocates have emphasised the need not only to reunite families, but to provide them with protection from deportation and a path to citizenship.
When a court ordered the Trump administration to reunite families in 2018, many reunited parents were not given any legal status, making them immediately deportable and raising the prospect of re-separation.