Women and children crossing together illegally into the US could be separated by US authorities under a proposal being considered by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to three government officials.
Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the US with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal.
The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the US Department of Health and Human Services, in the “least restrictive setting” until they can be taken into the care of a US relative or state-sponsored guardian.
Families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and allowed to remain in the US until their cases are resolved. A federal appeals court ruling bars prolonged child detention.
US President Donald Trump has called for ending “catch and release,” in which migrants who cross illegally are freed to live in the US while awaiting legal proceedings.
Two of the officials were briefed on the proposal at a Feb. 2 town hall for asylum officers by US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum chief John Lafferty.
A third official said the department is actively considering separating women from their children, but has not made a decision.
“The journey north is a dangerous one with too many situations where children ... are often exploited, abused or may even lose their lives. With safety in mind, the Department of Homeland Security continually explores options that may discourage those from even beginning the journey,” the department said in a statement.
US Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat whose district includes about 320 km of the border with Mexico, slammed the proposal.
“Bottom line: separating mothers and children is wrong,” he said in a statement.
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