The Trump administration is considering a plan to separate parents from their children when families are caught entering the U.S. illegally. The forceful move is meant to discourage border crossings, but immigrant groups have denounced it as draconian and inhumane, the New York Times reports. Under current policy, families are kept intact while awaiting a decision on whether they will be deported. The policy under discussion would send parents to adult detention facilities, while their children would be placed in shelters designed for juveniles or with a “sponsor,” who could be a relative in the U.S., though the administration may tighten rules on sponsors. The policy is favored by the White House, and has been approved by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The new Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, has yet to sign off on the proposal.
The debate comes as the administration faces an influx of people crossing the southern U.S. border illegally. As soon as President Trump took office, the number of people caught crossing the border dropped sharply, a sign that far fewer people were even trying. Only 11,677 apprehensions were recorded in April, the lowest number in a least 17 years. Administration officials heralded the drop as a “Trump effect,” with his tough talk on illegal immigration and a surge in immigration arrests discouraging Mexicans and Central Americans from making the journey. Now, the number of people caught has been on the rise, reaching 29,086 in November, the most since January. The trend has worried some administration officials and is weighing on the decision to separate parents from children. That month, 7,000 “family units” were apprehended, as well as 4,000 “unaccompanied minors,” or children traveling without an adult relative.