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Why a Reconstituted Family Separation Policy Remains Very Much on the Table for Trump Administration

 

As DHS’s McAleenan Denies Literal Reinstitution of Family Separation v1.0, Trump Administration Planning for Reconstituted v2.0 as Part of Unconscionable “Sophie’s Choice”

Acting DHS Chief Kevin McAleenan yesterday told NBC News that “family separation is not on the table … we’re not pursuing that approach” while noting that “a better system, as I’ve said many times, would allow us to detain families together during fair and expeditious immigration proceedings.”

Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice said: “Color us skeptical about McAleenan’s blanket dismissal of reinstituting family separations. Especially given reports that Stephen Miller is still pushing for the policy. We remain concerned that the Trump administration is seeking to detain adults for as long as it takes before they are deported, while giving parents a “Sophie’s choice” of indefinite detention with their children or without their children – note the second part of McAleenan’s statement. Everything indicates that Trump and team are setting up a slight variation on the previous version of family separation and their disavowals should be parsed accordingly.”

Below are a few reminders supporting our skepticism and assessment:

Stephen Miller still pushing family separation:

Last night, CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted that, “Family separations are still under discussion inside the WH, I’m told. Stephen Miller is still driving those discussions and Trump remains receptive to the policy, a WH official said.”

Defense Department reviewing military bases to house 5,000 migrant children:

Stars and Stripes recently reported that the Defense Department was “reviewing military bases to determine which ones are capable of housing migrant children. Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan on Tuesday approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to look for housing options for up to 5,000 migrant children.”

McAleenan’s comments echo Trump’s similar comments:

Remember reports from earlier this month of President Trump’s supposed dismissal of re-instituting his cruel border family separation policy – and that a close reading led to a different conclusion? Trump said on April 9, “We’re not looking to do that,” referring to family separations, before noting, “Once you don’t have it, that’s why you see many more people coming. They’re coming like it’s a picnic, because let’s go to Disneyland.” The second part of the quote seems like an endorsement for moving in that policy direction rather than an explanation for why not.

We read the comments of both Trump to McAleenan as follows: instead of simply re-instituting the family separation policy in its exact previous form, the White House is considering a slight variation on the same cruel approach – the so-called “Sophie’s Choice” option.

Barr’s actions line up with increased family detention and separation:

With Attorney General Barr’s recent decision that removes existing bond authority to release adults from immigration detention, together with DoD’s review of military bases to house 5,000 migrant children, DHS is one step closer to implementing Sophie’s Choice for immigrant parents.  Although DHS is not currently implementing a Sophie’s Choice policy, with more detention space for children and ICE’s track record of unchecked over-spending on adult detention, DHS is opening more and more detention space that would make Sophie’s Choice possible.

Understanding what Trump may be setting up – “Sophie’s Choice”:

Under this policy, according to a recent New York Times piece, “migrant parents would be given a choice of whether to voluntarily allow their children to be separated from them, or to waive their child’s humanitarian protections so the family can be detained together, indefinitely, in jail-like conditions.”

Not only would this practice be inhumane, under the circumstances, immigration advocates have stated that it would likely be found illegal by courts given the questionable nature of the “voluntary” decision – a Sophie’s Choice (for a fuller explanation, see this DHS Watch overview on the policies being floated and their implications).