In an attempt to deter parents thinking of illegally entering the U.S. with their children, the Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal that would separate adults and children who cross the southern border together, according to multiple media reports.
Such a policy move would mark a significant change in immigration enforcement, as families are currently kept together and released until their court date, according to MSNBC. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the practice of releasing undocumented immigrants from detention centers pending a hearing, which he has described as “catch and release.”
The new policy would mean that adults are kept in custody instead of being released, while children will be placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, before they are placed with a relative or state-sponsored guardian, per Reuters.
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A government official told CNN that adult immigrants abuse the current policy, saying they bring children on purpose so that they can avoid detention and arguing that non-parents may even kidnap children to exploit the system.
“We are trying to find ways to deter the use of children in illegal immigration,” the official said. “We are seeing kids essentially kidnapped and used to get here and stay.”
In 2015, a California judge ruled that children cannot be held in long-term detention centers, reversing an Obama administration policy that kept families together but in custody, per the New York Times. Since then, the “catch and release” policy has been used.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security have declined to comment on the media reports. Critics, however, have said such a policy would violate family and immigration laws and may even constitute a human rights abuse by preventing a child from being with his or her parents.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuella (D-Texas), said in a statement that “separating mothers and children is wrong.”
“That type of thing is where we depart from border security and get into violating human rights.”
U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a member of the House subcommittee on immigration and border security, tweeted out the Reuters report with the comment, “more cruelty.”