Following reports on Thursday that federal officials forcibly separated thousands more migrant children from their families than previously reported, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D.-Ore.) released a document to NBC News revealing the Trump administration intended to "traumatize children and intentionally create a humanitarian crisis at the border."
— Jeff Merkley (@JeffMerkley) January 18, 2019
The December 2017 draft memo—which Merkley shared with NBC News after receiving it from a government whistleblower—shows that Trump administration officials wanted to deport children more quickly by denying them asylum hearings after taking them away from their parents.
"It appears that they wanted to have it both ways—to separate children from their parents but deny them the full protections generally awarded to unaccompanied children," concluded ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of migrant parents.
President Donald Trump's "child immigration strategy is immoral and comes from a dark place in the heart of this administration," Merkley declared, responding to the revelations on Twitter. "Children are NOT expendable commodities in political battles."
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The leaked document, as NBC reports,
also shows officials wanted to specifically target parents in migrant families for increased prosecutions, contradicting the administration's previous statements. In June, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration did "not have a policy of separating families at the border" but was simply enforcing existing law.
The authors noted that the "increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have a substantial deterrent effect."
The memo was shared with high-ranking members of DHS and the Justice Department before then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an ex-senator infamous for his anti-immigrant positions, officially unveiled the administration's cruel "zero tolerance" policy in the spring.