The United States is thinking about separating children from their parents if they are caught illegally crossing the Mexico border.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly told CNN that the move would be an attempt to deter families from making the perilous journey from Central America.
Tens of thousands of children and parents have been detained coming across the border; most of them are fleeing violence in Honduras and El Salvador.
Border security was a key campaign pledge of President Donald Trump. His vow to build a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border was extremely popular among his supporters.
Media reports on Friday emerged which showed that the new policy would mean the parents are kept in confinement while they go through the legal or the deportation process. But their children would be under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) until they can be given into the care of an American relative or a state-vetted guardian.
Mr. Kelly was asked about these media reports on Monday, and he confirmed the reports and said:
“Yes, I am considering – in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network – I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.”
He also added that he would do “almost anything” to stop people from Central America getting on this very “dangerous network” and going through Mexico.
Henry Cuellar, Democratic Congressman from Texas who has a district about 200 miles from the border, criticized the proposal to separate the families.
He said that separating children from their mothers is wrong, and this is the kind of thing where “we depart from border security” and get into violating human rights.
With more than 50,000 caught in 2014, the number of unaccompanied children detained at the border reached crisis level when President Barack Obama was in office.
The rest were traveling with their parents, and detention centers were built to house the families while their cases were being heard.
A federal judge in California, however, ruled against keeping the children in these detention centers, even with their parents. After the judgment that described the detention of families as unlawful, the families were released into the U.S.
Leon Fresco, a former Department of Justice official, said that separation of children from the parents was under consideration even in the Obama administration after that court’s ruling.
Hours before Mr. Kelly commented on this issue, President Trump signed an executive order barring all refugees and all visitors – save Green Card holders – from six mainly Muslim countries due to terror fears.