Administration may detain or separate families under plan
WASHINGTON — The White House is actively consider- ing plans that could again separate parents and chil- dren at the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to reverse soaring numbers of fam- ilies attempting to cross illegally into the United States, according to several administration officials with direct knowledge of the effort.
One option under con- sideration is for the govern- ment to detain asylum-seek- ing families together for up to 20 days, then give parents a choice: stay in family detention with your child for months or years as your immigration case proceeds, or allow your children to be taken to a government shelter so other relatives or guardians can seek custody.
That option — called “binary choice” — is one of several under consideration amid t he president’s frustration over border security. He has been unable to fulfill key promises to build a bor- der wall and end what he calls “catch and release” — a process begun under past administrations in which most detained families are quickly freed to await immigration hearings. The number of migrant family mem- bers arrested and charged with illegally crossing the border jumped 38 percent in August and is now at record levels, according to DHS officials.
Senior administration officials say they are not planning to revive the cha- otic forced separations carried out by the Trump administration in May and June, which spawned an enormous political backlash and led to a court order to reunite families.
But they feel compelled to do something, and officials say senior White House adviser Stephen Miller is advocating tough measures because he believes the springtime separations worked as an effective deterrent to ille gal crossings.
At least 2,500 children were taken from their parents over a period of six weeks. Crossings by families declined slightly in May, June and July before surging again in August. September numbers are expected to be even higher.
Whereas s ome inside the White House and the Department of Homeland Security are concerned about the “optics” and political blowback of renewed separations, Miller and others are determined to act, according to several officials briefed on the deliberations. There have been several high-level meetings in the White House in recent weeks about the issue. The “binary choice” option is seen as one that could be tried out fairly quickly.
“Career law enforcement professionals in the U.S. government are working to analyze and evaluate options that would protect the American people, prevent the horrific actions of child smuggling, and stop drug cartels from pouring into our communities,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in an emailed statement.
Any effort to expand family detentions and resume separations would face multiple logistical and legal hurdles.