The Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal to separate undocumented women and children caught attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border together, Reuters reported Friday.
This dramatic shift in policy would seek to deter families from entering the United States illegally together, according to three government officials briefed on it who spoke to Reuters.
Under the current system, detained families are typically released relatively quickly and allowed to remain in the U.S. while they apply for asylum. President Donald Trump has ordered the DHS to end of this system, known as “catch and release,” but doing so would require a massive expansion of detention centers.
This is another part of the DHS policy shift under consideration. According to a Friday report from MSNBC, DHS Asylum Division Chief John Lafferty said the agency has located 20,000 beds where asylum seekers could be held indefinitely, marking a 500% increase in detention capacity.
As Reuters reported, under the new policy, children stopped by the DHS would be placed in protective custody with the department until they can be placed with a U.S. relative or government-sponsored guardian, while parents would remain in DHS custody. This forced separation would require mothers to decide whether to return to their native countries with their children, or to remain separated while they contest their deportation or wait for asylum hearings.
In a statement to Reuters, the DHS said, “The journey north is a dangerous one with too many situations where children—brought by parents, relatives or smugglers—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,” it continued.