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DHS Launches Website to Reunite Families Separated at Border

The Department of Homeland Security’s Family Reunification Task Force launched a website called that aims to help reunite families separated by the U.S. government at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The homepage of the new website.
The new website aims to reconnect families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
(Department of Homeland Security)
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched, a website tasked with helping reunite families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. was created to register families that were separated by the U.S. government at the U.S.-Mexico border between January 2017 and January 2021 to support the Family Reunification Task Force, which was created through an executive order from the federal government on Feb. 2, 2021.

“The task force has very little current information on the affected families due to the lack of documentation and record keeping by the previous administration,” explained task force Executive Director Michelle Brané in a written response to Government Technology. “As a result, was created to provide a mechanism for affected families to come forward and identify themselves as potentially qualified for the task force process.”

Brané explained that — or, in Spanish, — is a self-registration website available in three written languages with audio support in seven languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mam, Ki’che’, Q’eqchi’ and Q’anjob’al.

After an individual submits the registration, the task force reconciles that with existing records to determine whether the individuals had an encounter with the U.S. government between the included dates, according to Brané. For those that qualify, their information is sent to the International Organization for Migration, and they will be supported in obtaining and submitting necessary documents like passports.

Coforma, Eighty2degrees Design Studio and TechFlow worked together on developing the website prototype. DHS selected Coforma to provide the user experience (UX) design and front-end development for the website. The agency started design in July 2021 and the website is active now.

Coforma’s CEO Eduardo Ortiz underlined the importance of enabling partial information in the registration process for these families. After doing research, the company began to understand the way trauma had impacted these families as they were separated. Some individuals could not remember the year they were separated, for example, while others lost the papers that were given to them. For that reason, it was important to allow them to begin the reunification process even without all of those details.

As Brané detailed, at the time of these separations, no comprehensive, interagency system existed to help track separated parents and children. This created challenges in pinpointing the best data sets and requires the team to work closely with partners and other stakeholders to determine the most appropriate sources — as well as limitations with the data.

One of the key elements of building this website was developing trust with individuals who may have distrust with the federal government.

Ortiz explained that this was initially one of the challenges in building this platform: finding a balance between the required legal aspects of this project and being careful to try to repair trust.

“As we started doing research in interviewing people, what we understood was that trust had been broken with people,” Ortiz stated.

Impacted individuals did not differentiate between the immigration policies of current and previous administrations, he explained, in their eyes it was the federal government who had broken trust. So, when designing this website, Ortiz said it was important to visually present a federal website in a way that can build that trust.

Ortiz said this was done by using very clear language, not hiding any of the legalese, having clear calls to action and being straightforward.

Brané referred to the Privacy Impact Assessment that the DHS Privacy Office conducted to analyze both privacy risks and mitigation strategies.

Among the most likely concerns, the assessment acknowledges the risk that information collected for the purpose of reunification could be used inappropriately; as such, this information can only be accessed on a need-to-know basis. In addition, those who access it receive annual privacy and security awareness training and internal guidance states that individuals who submit information will not be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for removal from the U.S. based on the information they provide through
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.