Â© Migrants seeking asylum in the United States walk on the banks of the Rio Bravo river, the border between the U.S. and Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico September 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo
By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON () -The U.S. will offer migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under then-President Donald Trump temporary legal status and other benefits while barring similar separations in the future, according to a settlement agreement filed on Monday.
The agreement currently applies to some 3,900 children separated from their parents during Trump’s presidency from 2017-2021, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents separated families in a lawsuit first filed in 2018.
An estimated 500-1,000 children remain separated and the number covered by the settlement will likely expand, the ACLU said.
The settlement is part of an ongoing effort by U.S. President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration to reunite families separated under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy instituted in 2018, which called for the prosecution of all unauthorized border crossers.
Government watchdogs and immigration advocates have found the separations began before and continued after the policy’s official start.
The agreement will be subject to a U.S. district court judge’s approval. Trump, the frontrunner to become the Republican nominee for president in 2024, has criticized Biden’s handling of border security and pledged to implement hardline immigration policies if reelected.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the settlement proposed on Monday showed the Biden administration’s commitment to reuniting families and praised collaborations with advocacy organizations “in condemning the cruelty of the past.”
The settlement allows families subjected to Trump-era separations to apply for temporary legal status for three years and a work permit, as well as the option to make an asylum claim with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to court documents.
The agreement will bar the government from implementing any policy leading to widespread separations for eight years, but allows for exceptions for reasons of national security, criminal warrants, medical emergencies or if a child’s safety is at risk.
As part of the settlement, separated families will have access to temporary housing support for one year, according to court documents. reported in 2022 that many reunited families struggled with housing insecurity. The deal also covers behavior health services and some medical assistance.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt called the settlement “a critical step forward to help the thousands of families.”
The Biden administration in 2021 broke off class-wide settlement talks that would have provided monetary compensation to separated families.
More than 750 children have been reunited with their families under efforts directed by a Biden administration task force.