The Trump administration will more frequently separate families at the southwest border under a new policy to be announced Monday, a DHS official told POLITICO.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed a memo Friday that directs the department to refer all suspected border-crossers to the Justice Department for prosecution under a federal statute that prohibits illegal entry, according to the official.
The stringent enforcement of federal immigration law comes as arrests on the border have climbed in recent months. Border Patrol caught about 38,000 people at the U.S.-Mexico border in April — more than three times the level during the same month a year earlier, though still well below the level in recent decades.
The new DHS policy follows an April announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that calls for U.S. attorney’s offices along the southwest border to prosecute cases of suspected illegal entry “to the extent practicable.” Nielsen’s coordinated measure will likely mean a broader pool of people caught at the border will face criminal charges — including parents who arrive with their children.
Sessions will announce the new policy at a public event this afternoon in San Diego. He’ll be joined by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement top official Thomas Homan, one of the chief evangelists of Trump’s crusade against undocumented immigration. Homan — who reportedly pressed Nielsen to prosecute parents — announced last week that he planned to retire from government service in June.
The idea of separating families at the border has been on the table since the early days of the Trump administration, a DHS official told POLITICO. But administration officials worried they wouldn’t have the resources to detain thousands more people arriving at the border, as well as house children split from their parents.
Under the new policy, children will be classified as unaccompanied minors if their parents are arrested on illegal entry changes, which will put them in the custody of the Health and Human Resources Department until they can be placed with a guardian.
The Trump administration has already stepped up criminal referrals of people arrested at the border. From Oct. 1 to April 19, DHS referred nearly 30,000 cases for prosecution under the illegal entry statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a).
President Donald Trump has sought to change asylum laws that allow people who arrive at the border to seek refuge in the United States. Trump and administration officials claim the laws amount to "loopholes" that allow migrants to enter the U.S. and remain without authorization.