tags: , , , , AVEF, Press Releases

Secretary of Homeland Security Tells Congress Families are Not Being Separated, But Top Officials in DHS Say Otherwise

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Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post is reporting that the “The nation’s top immigration and border officials are urging Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to detain and prosecute all parents caught crossing the Mexican border illegally with their children, a stark change in policy that would result in the separation of families that until now have mostly been kept together.”

Currently, people arrested for entering the country “without inspection” can be put directly into deportation proceedings or be prosecuted for a misdemeanor and then processed for deportation. Although the latter takes longer and is much more expensive, it is frequently done because the government thinks it will deter future migrants from making the trek.

With border crossings at an all-time low, officials are now, inexplicably, trying to make prosecution of entry without inspection mandatory, and counting on the fact that parents will be separated from their children for a longer time, as they await outcome of their cases. As the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt put it in the Post piece, this plan would make “children as young as 2 and 3 years old pawns in a cruel public policy experiment.”

And what does DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson have to say about it?

Just two weeks ago, Nielson testified to Congress that, “[T]he standard is to – in every case – is to keep that family together as long as operationally possible.” Her spokesperson recently stated, “DHS does not have a policy of separating families at the border for deterrence purposes.”

But the agencies she leads are urging her to do just that – rip children from their moms and dads and prosecute 100% of those parents to achieve a deterrent effect. The internal memo obtained by theWashington Post states that this was already implemented in New Mexico and West Texas for five months last year, precisely to show a deterrent effect.

And, according to other 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 4.

On top of that, a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services told Congress yesterday that the department lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant kids, which it had been tasked with keeping tabs on.

And yet the government is proposing to give the department even more kids to look after and care for?

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice, said:

When the Secretary testifies to Congress that her agency does not have a policy of separating families, but internal memos show otherwise, it questions the integrity of the Department and its leaders.  It’s bad enough that the public has been stonewalled in obtaining information on this and many other significant issues, but it harms our democracy when public officials, especially high-ranking ones, provide important information that is inaccurate.

What kind of country are we becoming where our government deliberately seeks a deterrent effect through these harmful actions to children?  We are better than that.