New Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly confirmed earlier reports that his department is considering separating undocumented parents and children caught entering the United States at the Mexico border. Kelly said the move would be aimed at deterring "more movement along this terribly dangerous network" as families fleeing violence and poverty in Central American countries from trying to illegally enter the U.S.
So what is the DHS policy concerning family detention now, and how might that change under the proposed detention plan?
The Past and the Plan
Under the Obama administration, families fleeing to the United States were held in detention centers until immigration judges and asylum officers could consider their cases. That was until a federal judge ruled that detaining children, even with their parents, in such jail-like settings was illegal. Following that ruling, families were released together while they awaited adjudication. A former Department of Justice official confirmed that the Obama administration considered the same plan but rejected it, preferring to "detain the family as a unit or release the family as the unit."
Kelly told CNN the new plan would allow immigration officials to separate children from adults accompanying them across the border. While parents and guardians would be kept in detention, the children would be moved elsewhere, possibly to other family members already in the country or to child protective services or other state protective custody. Reuters reports around 54,000 children and guardians were apprehended between October 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017
"I would do almost anything," Kelly said, "to deter the people from Central America getting on this very, very dangerous network ... going through Mexico." When asked about the treatment of children separated from their parents, Kelly asserted, "We have tremendous experience of dealing with unaccompanied minors ... We turn them over to (Health and Human Services) and they do a very, very good job of putting them in foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States."
There may be some pushback from Congress on the plan, however. U.S. Representative from Texas Henry Cuellar said, "Bottom line: separating mothers and children is wrong." Cuellar, whose district includes around 200 miles of the border with Mexico, added, "That type of thing is where we depart from border security and get into violating human rights."