Last summer, when the Trump administration began publicly separating children and parents at the border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted that the Trump administration didn’t have a family separation policy and was simply enforcing laws that already existed. In a policy draft obtained by NBC News, however, it is clear that Nielsen lied, and that the administration had considered a handful of other terrible policies to deter migrants from coming to the U.S.
The policy draft, reportedly obtained by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office from a “government whistleblower,” which was later given to NBC News, showed that officials debated speeding up deportations of children separated from their parents by denying them their right to asylum hearings. Instead, a Justice Department official suggested, the child’s family would be given an order of “expedited removal” prior to separation.
Under the expedited removal, the draft’s authors suggested that DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the care of separated and unaccompanied migrant children, could work together to deport the minors. “It would take coordination with the home countries, of course, but that doesn’t seem like too much of a cost to pay compared to the status quo,” one writer noted.
After the government was ordered by a federal judge in June to halt its family separation policy and reunite children with their families, lawyers for the Trump administration argued that the hard work of family reunification should be left to nonprofit organizations.
The draft also showed officials stressing increasing prosecutions specifically of the parents of migrant children, disputing Nielsen’s infamous comment about enforcing pre-existing policies. The draft’s writers noted that the media would then report on the increased prosecutions, which “would have a substantial deterrent effect.”
Despite the draft’s damning contents, DHS appears to still be attempting to cover its ass. From NBC News, emphasis mine:
It is unclear from the official’s comment whether the government planned on reunifying children with their parents before they were deported.
“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,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who led the class action suit on behalf of migrant parents who had been separated from their children.
A DHS official told NBC News on the condition of anonymity because the department does not comment on pre-decisional documents that the draft’s authors’ intent was to enable agencies to reunify families after they were separated for prosecution.
But the draft and comments do not mention plans to reunify.
Following the disclosure, Merkley requested a perjury investigation into the Homeland Security secretary:
Considering Nielsen’s shoddy track record, getting caught in another giant whopper would just be par for the course.