Immigrant rights groups were outraged on Friday as reports surfaced of a new proposal by officials at Trump's Department of Homeland Security to arrest, detain, and then prosecute adults who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border with their children—a "zero tolerance" policy that critics say would rip apart thousands of families.
The proposal would make "children as young as two and three years old pawns in a cruel public policy experiment," according to Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Trump administration wants to use kids as young as 2 and 3 years old as pawns in a cruel public policy experiment.— ACLU (@ACLU) April 27, 2018
Under @SecNielsen, immigration authorities have already illegally separated hundreds of families — which is why we sued — and now want to do more damage. https://t.co/0EuTAowzY4
The department has also floated the idea of separating parents from their children as soon as they are apprehended as another deterrent to families attempting to immigrate.
Now, DHS officials are suggesting that parents attempting to accompany their children in border crossings should be treated as potentially dangerous human traffickers, and detained in criminal detention facilities.
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Instead of quickly releasing parents who are detained, as DHS does now the majority of the time, the department would threaten parents with criminal charges and jail time—the "most effective" deterrent to immigrating families, according to an internal memo obtained by the Washington Post.
DHS has "a legal obligation to protect the best interests of the child whether that be from human smugglings, drug traffickers, or nefarious actors who knowingly break our immigration laws and put minor children at risk," department spokesperson Katie Waldman told The Hill on Friday.
Reports of the new potential prosecution policy come as a caravan of about 200 migrants approach the border with plans to request asylum, having traveled through Mexico from Central America. The Trump administration and Fox News have denounced the expected arrival of the group as a "disgrace" to national security. Most of the travelers are women and children, making the journey as a large group for safety.
Philip G. Schrag, a Georgetown law professor and asylum expert, called the proposal to charge immigrant parents with crimes "terrible for both the children and the parents."
"I think it's absolutely wrenching psychologically...What are we doing to those children psychologically that will haunt us years down the road if they become Americans?" he said to the Post.