First lady Jill Biden expected to take active role in immigrant family reunification
Posted January 27, 2021 2:20 p.m. EST
CNN — The Biden administration's planned task force aimed at reuniting children who were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump-era enforcement policies will include input from first lady Jill Biden, according to three sources familiar with the planning.
Biden is tasking her East Wing with taking an active role in the reunification project. Her interest in the task force could offer something of a stark contrast with former first lady Melania Trump.
Trump made her first trip to visit a border facility for children and families in Texas in June 2018 in the midst of the zero-tolerance separation controversy, but did so wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words, "I really don't care. Do U?" The jacket spawned a news cycle of its own, drawing attention away from Trump's objective for the visit, and helping create a public perception of a first lady disinterested in the issue. In an interview several months after her border trip, Trump called the separation of families, "unacceptable" and "heartbreaking."
The current first lady's upcoming involvement in the issue and its targeted task force will lend visibility to the mission of reuniting children with their parents, which remains a crisis for many families. Lawyers are still unable to reach the parents of 611 children who had been split from their families by US border officials between 2017 and 2018, according to the latest court filing. The Justice Department also officially rescinded the policy Tuesday in a memo to federal prosecutors, even though it had already been ended.
"As the first lady remarked on a 'Charla' with young Latinos earlier this week, her chief of staff, Ambassador Julissa Reynosa, will monitor the federal reunification effort given her background as a lawyer," Biden spokesman Michael LaRosa told CNN on Wednesday, confirming the East Wing's anticipated involvement. Reynosa has firsthand perspective, having moved to the United States with her family from a rural village in the Dominican Republic when she was a child.
A White House official said Jill Biden was especially impacted by her December trip to the Matamoros, Mexico, refugee camp across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
"It's not who we are as Americans. We are a welcoming nation, but that's not the message that we're sending at the border. We're saying, 'Stop. Don't come in,' " she said at the time after spending two hours on the ground at the camp.
Top officials at Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department are expected to lead the task force, one official familiar with the situation said.
President Joe Biden promised to announce the task force on day one of his administration, but he has yet to do so. The task force, however, is expected to be announced as early as later this week.