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Trump’s Unlawfully Appointed Acting DHS Secretary Says the Brutal and Traumatizing Family Separation Policy “Should Be On the Table”

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One of the former Trump administration officials primarily responsible for the separation of thousands of children from their families has raised resurrecting the brutal, chaotic, and traumatizing “zero tolerance” policy if the indicted former president returns to the White House in 2025.

During questioning by Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, Chad Wolf, a GOP witness and the unlawfully appointed former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified that “all” immigration options “should be on the table” under a second Trump administration. Upon further questioning, it was made clear that this would include the “zero tolerance” policy, which resulted in the forcible separation of more than 5,500 children and became one of the darkest moments in modern U.S. history.

“Children as young as four months were mercilessly taken from their parents,” Rep. Castro said, noting that despite continued reunification efforts by the Biden administration, hundreds of kids remain separated from their families to this very day due to the Trump administration. “What you did is unimaginable, inhumane, and despicable,” Rep. Castro continued. Wolf has previously raised the prospect of resurrecting this policy, which Rep. Castro sought to confirm during the hearing.

“As we all know, we’re having an important debate about immigration in the Congress and for the presidency,” Rep. Castro said. “So, I’d like to ask you an important question. I’d like a yes or no answer. I’d like you to be a straight shooter. You are from Texas, after all. Would you advise this or a future administration to once again separate families, as the Trump administration did?”

“So, I will stand by my statement that you, I think, quoted earlier, that all options should be on the table,” Wolf confirmed, lumping in the separations with what he referred to as “effective programs,” like Remain in Mexico. 

But there was nothing effective about “zero tolerance” or Remain in Mexico, the former leading to the trauma of thousands of kids, and the latter subjecting tens of thousands of already vulnerable people to added danger and abuse by cartels and and other criminal actors

However, Wolf wasn’t the only pro-family separation witness invited by House Republicans. The other was Gene Hamilton, another Trump official who eagerly advanced Trump’s cruel and racist immigration agenda. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Policy Director at the American Immigration Council, pointed to an internal document where Hamilton “wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of separating families.” Hamilton now works for America First Legal and Citizens for Sanity, two right-wing organizations tied to white nationalist and former Trump aide Stephen Miller. 

And while Wolf is highly disreputable – keep in mind he used DHS as a Super PAC for Trump’s reelection in 2020 and refused to resign after a court said he was not the lawful acting DHS secretary – believe him on family separation. Trump has already refused to rule out reviving the policy, falsely stating that “if a family hears that they’re going to be separated—they love their family—they don’t come. I know it sounds harsh.” Sounds harsh, sure. But there’s no evidence the policy stopped any desperate families from seeking safety here. 

As former Biden ICE Chief of Staff Jason Houser said on a recent America’s Voice conference call with reporters, “In the history of the Department of Homeland Security and larger flows of migrants at the southern border, there has never been data that has shown that these sort of measures or reforms would stop or deter a migrant’s calculus to come to the southern border.” In other words, all of these deterrence strategies do not work and have no demonstrable impact on the decision by an individual or family to flee places like Venezuela, Cuba or Haiti. Indeed, after the policy was implemented by the Trump administration, the number of people coming to the southern border seeking asylum continued to increase.

The family separation policy was an intentional decision to inflict untold cruelty on non-white children and families in the name of so-called border security. Physicians for Human Rights, a humanitarian organization made up of medical professionals, said in a 2020 report that zero tolerance rose “to the level of torture,” and was a form of “enforced disappearance.” Some parents spent months agonizing about the whereabouts of their children.

The Biden administration this past fall took an important step in righting the wrongs of this chapter in American history, announcing a historic settlement in an ongoing class action lawsuit over the policy. 

Under the proposed settlement stemming from a lawsuit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the government is barred from family separation policies, except in limited circumstances, for a period of eight years. The government must also continue its efforts to reunite children who remain separated from their families, “fund their reunification in the U.S., and provide a pathway for them to seek asylum here,” the ACLU said. The government has also agreed to connect affected individuals with services, including behavioral health care, limited legal assistance, and work authorization. Permanent status in the U.S. is still needed, but that is something only Congress can provide.

“Family separations at the border have been a horrific chapter in our country’s history,” tweeted reporter Pablo De La Rosa. “I often think back to the Physicians for Human Rights @P4HR report which found that the separations constituted torture in their effects on migrant families. I can’t [imagine] the harm if Trump returned to power and we went back to doing this,” he continued.

Trump, Wolf, and others have made clear this brutal, chaotic, and traumatizing policy will be on the table if they are again given power. As horrific as their policies were the first time around, they have made it crystal clear the second time will be far worse.