The White House is actively considering plans that could separate parents and children at the US-Mexico border, hoping that the rising number of families would illegally cross the United States, according to various government officials with direct knowledge of the effort.
An option to be considered is that the government holds asylum-seeking families up to 20 days together, leaving parents the choice – remaining in family arrest with their child for months or years as their immigration case progresses, or allowing children to be admitted to a shelter for the government so that other family members or guardians can have custody.
That option – called "binary choice" – is one of many that is being considered amid the president's frustration over border security. Trump has failed to fulfill important promises to build a boundary wall and put an end to what he & # 39; catch and let go & # 39; calls, a process that began under previous administrations in which most detained families are quickly free to wait for immigration hearings. The number of migrant families arrested and accused of illegally crossing the border rose by 38 percent in August and is now at record levels, according to officials from the Ministry of Homeland Security.
Senior civil servants say they do not intend to revive the chaotic forced secretions of the Trump government in May and June, which caused a massive political backlash and led to a court order to reunite families.
But they feel compelled to do something, and officials say the White House senior adviser, Stephen Miller, calls for tougher measures because he believes the separations have worked in the spring as an effective deterrent against illegal crossings.
At least 2,500 children were taken from their parents for six weeks. Family crossings fell slightly in May, June and July and increased again in August. The figures for September are expected to be even higher.
While some within the White House and the DHS are worried about "optics" and the political recoil of renewed divorce, Miller and others are determined to act, according to officials who were informed about the deliberations. The White House has met on this subject at a high level in recent weeks. The option "binary choice" is seen as an option that can be tried out fairly quickly.
"Career law enforcement professionals in the US government are working to analyze and evaluate options that would protect the American people, prevent the gruesome actions of child trafficking, and stop drug cartels in our communities," said Vice Secretary Hogan Gidley of the White House. . in a statement by e-mail.
Any attempt to extend family accusations and resume divorces would face multiple logistical and legal obstacles.
It takes the overcoming of the communication and data management disorders that plagued the first effort, when Border Patrol agents, immigration and customs enforcement officials and staff from the Ministry of Health and Human Services struggled to keep separate parents and children.
The Trump government is of the opinion that it is on solid legal grounds, according to two officials, partly because the American District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, who had ordered the government to reunite separate families in June, the binary choice method in one of approved his statements. But according to a Congressional Research Service report from last month, there were still practical and legal barriers to using that approach in the future and releasing families together in the United States said the only clearly viable option among the current legislation & # 39 ;.
Administrators said the CRS report mentioned earlier legal statements. But the American Civil Liberties Union, who started the divorce case, disputed that interpretation and said that it would oppose any attempt at extended family arrests or divorces.
"The government does not have to keep families without a danger of flight or danger without distinction and legally can not hold them," said ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt in an e-mail. "It is very worrying that this government continues to look for ways to harm small children."
Another obstacle is that the government has no room for a large number of extra families. ICE has three & # 39; family centers & # 39; with a combined capacity of around 3,000 parents and children. With more than four times as many people arriving every month, it is unclear where the government would keep all parents who would choose to stay with their children.
But Trump said in his execution form of June 20 that family divorces are being discontinued, that the administration's policy is to keep parents and children together, "including by holding them." In recent weeks, federal officials have taken steps to expand their ability to do so.
In addition to considering "binary choice" and other options, officials have proposed new rules that would allow them to withdraw from a 1997 federal court agreement that forbids ICE to detain children for longer than 20 days.
The rules would give ICE more flexibility to expand family centers for detention and possibly retain parents and children for longer, although lawyers say this is likely to come to court.
Civil servants have also imposed production quotas on immigration judges and are looking for more ways to speed up the calendar in their courts to try things faster.
Federal officials who argue for tougher measures say that the rising number of family transitions is a sign of asylum fraud. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has accused human smugglers of charging thousands of dollars to migrants to the United States, knowing that "legal loopholes" will force the administration to release them while awaiting a trial. Federal officials say that released families are rarely deported.
Proponents of immigrants say that asylum seekers flee violence and acute poverty, especially in Central America, and deserve a full hearing before an immigration judge.
"There is currently a crisis on our southern border," said spokeswoman Katie Waldman of the DHS in a statement and added: "The DHS will continue to enforce the law humane, and will continue to investigate a range of options to to secure the borders of our country. "
In the south of Arizona, so many families have crossed over the last 10 days that the government has released them massively in shelters and charities. A lack of available bus tickets has stranded hundreds of parents and children in Tucson, where they sleep on Red Cross cots in a church gymnasium.
At a Senate hearing, Senator John Kyl (R-Ariz.) Told Nielsen that migrants "ended up in the community & # 39; and that the authorities there & # 39; did not have the ability to do something about it & # 39 ;.
Nielsen said that legislators should give DHS more freedom to keep families with children in detention until their cases can be fully tried – a process that can take months or years because of huge legal arrears.
DHS officials have seen the biggest increase this year in families arriving from Guatemala, where smugglers mention coyotes that tell migrants that they can prevent detention and deportation by bringing a child, according to some community leaders in that country.
Friday Nielsen asked for a regional effort to combat smuggling and violence in the region and to increase our penalties for traders.
"I think there is more that we can do to keep them accountable, especially those who are in children," she said in a speech in Washington at the second conference on prosperity and security in Central America.
More than 90,000 adults with children were caught on the border with the southwest in the first 11 months of fiscal 2018. The previous high for a single year was 77,600 in 2016.