NOEL KING, HOST:
Early in his presidency, Joe Biden signed an executive order that aimed to reunite kids who'd been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. This week, he starts trying to get it done. Four families will be allowed to reunite in the U.S. It's the first step in trying to undo the family separation policy that was put in place by the Trump administration. With me now is NPR's Joel Rose, who covers immigration. Good morning, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: What do you know about these four families?
ROSE: Well, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was asked about them on a call with reporters. He did not give a lot of details, but he did say that they hailed originally from Mexico and Honduras and that some have been separated as far back as 2017, even before the Trump administration officially announced the zero-tolerance policy at the border that led to thousands of family separations. Here's Mayorkas.
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ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: They are children who were 3 years old at the time of separation. They are mothers who fled extremely dangerous situations in their home countries, holding out hope to reunite with their children.
ROSE: Secretary Mayorkas said that these families will get humanitarian parole, which is a temporary permission to enter the country. Normally, it's given to relatives of people who are seriously ill, things like that. But Mayorkas said they're giving humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis, which means they might not do this for every other family. And again, it is just temporary.
KING: Just temporary but, I imagine, very, very good news for these families. And yet it's only four of them. Why so few?
ROSE: Yeah, the Biden administration says these families are not easy to find. Many of the parents were deported years ago. Also, the Trump administration did not keep good records. President Biden created a task force on family reunification shortly after taking office. And these are the first reunifications to happen under that task force. I've been covering this issue for several years, and this feels like a milestone because it is such a departure from the previous administration, which had resisted allowing these parents back into the U.S. But at the same time, as you point out, the numbers are really small, especially when you consider that there are more than a thousand families that are still separated, according to the Biden administration.
KING: More than a thousand. So then what are advocates for immigrants saying about this?
ROSE: Well, they welcomed the announcement, but at the same time, they expressed frustration at the slow pace of reunification so far. Lee Gelernt is with the ACLU, which fought the Trump administration for years in court over family separation and is now pushing the Biden administration to do more for these families.
LEE GELERNT: We are happy for these four families, of course, but we are not about to start celebrating. We know how much work is left to be done. We assume and hope the administration recognizes that, as well.
ROSE: Gelernt and the ACLU are in settlement negotiations with the Biden administration over exactly what kind of relief these families will get in the long run. That could include some kind of permanent legal status, maybe also support services, possibly financial compensation. In other words, advocates want the administration to go way beyond just letting these families in with temporary status.
KING: OK, so that's what's going on this week. And then what is the longer-term timeline here?
ROSE: Well, the Biden task force head says they've agreed to continue doing family reunifications while they hammer out some of these details and that these are just the first of many reunifications to come. A more cynical take on the timing would be that the administration is eager to announce some good news about immigration. They've been getting hammered by Republican politicians who blame Biden's policies for a surge of unauthorized migrants at the southern border. And the administration is also getting an earful from immigrant advocates, who say they need to do more to get rid of his predecessor's hard line immigration policies. And they need to do it faster.
KING: NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks, Joel.
ROSE: You're welcome.
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