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A new policy approved by ICE would separate families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border and target parents who try to retrieve their children from immigration detention centers. (Photo: @NIJC/Twitter)

'Beyond the Pale': Outcry as Trump Administration Considers Separating Immigrant Families at Border

"Cruelty as official government policy."

Julia Conley

Immigrant rights groups were outraged on Friday as reports surfaced that the Trump administration is considering a proposal to separate immigrant families who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border—crossing a line that previous administrations have stopped short of even as they have attempted to cut down on immigration.

Families have generally been allowed to stay together in family detention centers under the current policy. The new proposal would see parents sent to adult facilities after being apprehended at the border while their children would be sent to juvenile shelters.

Undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. would also be singled out for deportation if they attempt to retrieve their children from detention centers, under the new rules.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have approved the plan, but Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has yet to sign off. John Kelly, who previously headed President Donald Trump's Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and now serves as his chief of staff, pushed the idea earlier this year, but the administration backed off the plan due to a sharp decline in immigration after Trump entered office.

More than 29,000 people were apprehended by border patrol agents in November, up from about 11,000 in April.

Immigration advocates note that the proposal would be making official a practice that has already been in play along the border. Earlier this month, eight groups including the Immigration Justice Campaign filed a complaint regarding ICE's forcible separation of at least 150 immigrant families, some of whom had children as young as a year old.

"The practice of separating families at the border will cause family members—including parents with young children—to seek alternative ways of entering the United States, rather than presenting at a port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border out of fear that they will be separated," wrote the groups. "As a result, vulnerable individuals desperate to avail themselves of humanitarian and legal protections may fall into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers."

On social media, critics expressed alarm at the proposal.

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