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Tal Kopan of CNN reported yesterday that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has adopted a policy that would require Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to “refer every person [including those seeking asylum] caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution, a policy that could result in the separation of far more parents from their children at the border.”
This policy is being adopted to achieve a deterrent effect, according to an internal DHS memo. However, according to Dara Lind of Vox, the very statistics the government is using to justify their actions are wrong – as proven with the government’s own data.
Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement explained that, indeed, families are separated “when we prosecute.” Children will be taken from parents and placed in government custody with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which recently confirmed that it lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children it had been tasked with keeping tabs on.
Secretary Nielsen’s policy corresponds with a recent Department of Justice memo requiring federal prosecutors to prosecute all referred cases for illegal entry. It also comes just two weeks after Secretary Nielsen told Congress, “[T]he standard is to – in every case – is to keep that family together as long as operationally possible,” and her spokesperson stated, “DHS does not have a policy of separating families at the border for deterrence purposes.”
Although this policy is now official, it is not new. Less than two months into the Trump administration, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly stated he was considering separating families as a deterrence. Although he later backed down, efforts to institute the policy continued and were implemented for five months last year precisely to show a deterrent effect. Furthermore, according to government data obtained by the New York Times, the agency has already separated 700 children from parents, including over 100 children under the age of four.
This new policy has been officially adopted despite repeated efforts from the American Academy of Pediatrics describing the trauma to children as a result of this policy. The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Colleen Kraft, said last week, “The government’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border counteracts every science-based recommendation I have ever made to families who seek to build, and not harm, their children’s intellectual and emotional development.”
What’s more, this policy provides no exception for those seeking asylum which could, as noted by the DHS Inspector General, violate international obligations and U.S. law.
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice, said: “Knowing the trauma it causes children, it is more than cruel to take children from parents and place them in government custody, especially considering the dubious nature of the deterrent effect. Moreover, this cruel policy may violate both international obligations and U.S. law and is a terrible use of government resources. It will create thousands of children in need of government care, an already strained system, and create special needs for children who will be needlessly traumatized by this cruel policy.”