The Trump administration is considering a proposal to separate parents from their children, who illegally enter the country, according to officials familiar with the plan. The effort, which immigrants groups have decried as inhumane, is meant to curb illegal immigration and border crossings, which has remained a priority for President Donald Trump.
Under the current policy, families can to stay together while awaiting a deportation decision. But the new proposal would force parents to adult detention centers and their children to juvenile shelters.
"The policy is favored by The White House, and has been approved by Immigration and Customs Enforcement," the New York Times reported. "The new Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, who has final approval power, has yet to sign off on the proposal."
The Trump administration is considering the plan as a surge of Central American families cross the Mexican border. When Trump first took office, there was a sharp decline in illegal immigration — likely the result of his threatening rhetoric and swell of immigration-related arrests.
"Only 11,677 apprehensions were recorded in April, the lowest number in a least 17 years, according to Customs and Border Protection," the Times reported. But that number has more than doubled in November, and U.S. agents detained 7, 018 families along the Mexico border, and 4,000 unaccompanied minors.
"People aren’t going to stop coming unless there are consequences to illegal entry," one Department of Homeland Security official told the Washington Post.
Most Central American migrants are considered to be economically motivated, and thus denied asylum. But migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — which represents the majority of families apprehended along the border, come from countries mangled by some of the world's highest homicide rates and gang violence. Even if a migrant's fear is deemed "credible," the asylum process can take years. Hundreds of thousands of cases are backlogged pending a decision in the U.S. immigration courts.
In response, the Trump administration wants to hire more judges, multiply immigration detention center sites, and speed up asylum cases "to stop migrants from taking advantage of 'loopholes' in the asylum process," the Post said.
Officials also hope the proposal to separate families will make a significant dent in the uptick of illegal immigration. "The parents that would undertake this perilous journey to the United States would be less likely to do it if they knew they would be separated from their kids," Andrew R. Arthur, a resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Post. "It might seem heartless, but it’s more heartless to give them the illusion they’re going to be able to enter the United States freely by hiring a smuggler to come here, because the dangers associated with smuggling along the southwest border are real."
But much of the Trump administration's and ICE's plans to quell illegal immigration diminish the dire situation of many Central American families trying to cross the border. "These measures will only drive families who are vulnerable to exploitation further into the hands of traffickers and smugglers," Greg Chen, director of government relations of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Post. "These are families that have no other choice for their survival."