Hardliners within the Trump administration are pushing to begin once again separating migrant children from their families on the southwest border, The Washington Post reports.
If they’re put into practice, those discussions could lead to a return of the chaos of last June, when the administration separated 2,654 children from their parents without a clear legal framework or a plan to reunite them.
Many of those children wound up in shelters with histories of abuse and neglect. Others suffered severe emotional trauma after being separated from their parents. As of September, more than two months after a federal judge ordered the administration to reunite all of the families it had separated, more than 400 children were still separated from their caretakers, according to a court filing.
The Post report, which cites “several administration officials with direct knowledge of the effort,” comes the same week as the administration began releasing asylum seekers near the Mexico border without giving them any way to reunite with relatives or get to their court hearings.
“Career law enforcement professionals in the U.S. government are working to analyze and evaluate options that would protect the American people, prevent the horrific actions of child smuggling, and stop drug cartels from pouring into our communities,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told The Washington Post.
The total number of people Customs and Border Protection caught crossing the southwest border illegally in August was “consistent with an expected seasonal increase,” the agency said. But the number of family members rose dramatically, from 9,247 in July to 12,774 in August — a 38 percent increase.
“The August Southwest Border… numbers are a clear indicator that the migration flows are responding to gaps in our nation’s legal framework,” the agency said on its website.
Some administration officials claim the rising number of people crossing the border illegally with children is a sign they’re trying to game the system — bringing children with them on the dangerous journey so they’ll released from custody quickly and can escape deportation, according to The Post.
Those immigration haws within the administration see separating families as a viable deterrent that they believe will make people less willing to cross the southwest border illegally because they won’t be able to get out of detention quickly.
Critics of the policy, meanwhile, say the people crossing the southwest border are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries — that they’re simply desperate people who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
It’s not clear whether a return to family separation would hold up in court. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late June that ended the previous separation policy and ordered agencies to “maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.” But a court struck down efforts to either detain or separate families in early July, meaning officials have little choice but a return to its previous “catch and release” policy — releasing families and children together pending criminal proceedings for illegal entry.
The administration has proposed new rules on immigrant detention that could let it detain children and their families together. But for now, officials can’t keep them in custody longer than 20 days. And, as The Post points out, the Congressional Research Service found last month that catch and release is “the only clearly viable option under current law.”