Trump officials desperate to toughen border policies reportedly want to offer migrant families a choice: Get locked up together or risk not seeing your child for years

Police officers and US Border Patrol agents watching over Central American asylum seekers near McAllen, Texas, in June.

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Police officers and US Border Patrol agents watching over Central American asylum seekers near McAllen, Texas, in June.
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John Moore/Getty Images

  • Officials in the Department of Homeland Security are mulling the reintroduction of the divisive child-separation policy, according to multiple reports.
  • One idea reportedly being discussed is giving parents a “binary choice” of separation from their child or being detained as a family in jail-like facilities.
  • Previously, separation was automatic. A new policy described by The Washington Post would instead force parents to choose between two grim options.
  • US agencies have acknowledged that some separated families have not been reunited even after as long as two years.
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Top Department of Homeland Security officials, under pressure to toughen US immigration policy, are mulling the reintroduction of the divisive child-separation policy, according to multiple reports Monday.

As President Donald Trump begins his purge of the department and seeks a hardliner to replace the outgoing DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, officials are mulling a revised version of the policy dubbed the “binary choice,” sources told The Washington Post.

Under the policy, migrants who enter the US illegally with their children and are stopped by border officials would be presented with a choice. They can either remain detained as a family indefinitely in jail-like conditions or agree for children to be separated from them to spare them immigration custody.

The Trump administration has acknowledged that it sometimes takes years to reunite separated families.

The goal of the policy would be to reduce the number of migrants released in the US while their asylum applications are processed.

Trump is reportedly also considering a range of other hardline measures meant to discourage migrants from entering the US to seek asylum. Reported ideas include limiting who can claim asylum, closing ports of entry along the US-Mexico border, and imposing an executive order designed to end birthright citizenship.

According to officials cited by NBC News, Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Protection, who is expected to take over as acting DHS secretary, has not ruled out reintroducing child separation.

The binary-choice measure was denounced by human-rights groups when first proposed last year, with the Trump administration accused by Human Rights First of seeking to “rain cruelty on fleeing families.”

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

With unauthorized crossings from the Mexican border said to be at an 11-year high, Trump is facing demands from his base to fulfill his campaign pledge to reduce the number of migrants entering the US illegally.

Nielsen had clashed with the president over his demands that the DHS reintroduce the child-separation policy, officials told NBC News.

A boy and father from Honduras being taken into custody by US Border Patrol agents near the US-Mexico Border in June. The family pictured was sent a center for possible separation.

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A boy and father from Honduras being taken into custody by US Border Patrol agents near the US-Mexico Border in June. The family pictured was sent a center for possible separation.
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John Moore/Getty

The so-called zero-tolerance policy had received widespread national and international condemnation following its introduction last April. Eventually, Trump signed an executive order revoking it.

Under the policy, migrant parents who entered the US illegally were separated from their children at the border and held in federal jails while they were prosecuted. Their children were held by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In a January court filing the Trump administration acknowledged that it might not be possible to reunite thousands of children separated at their border with their parents.

The process of identifying the children taken from their parents at the border can take up to two years, according to more recent court documents filed Friday.

The president reportedly believes that the reintroduction of the policy would deter migrants from entering the United States but has faced resistance from administration officials, who have pointed to the legal hurdles such a move would face as well as the likely political and public backlash.

It’s one of numerous hardline measures the president has reportedly pressed for with the encouragement of his adviser Stephen Miller.

Others include the closing of the US-Mexico border and confronting governments in Central America about the migrants leaving their borders or crossing their territory headed for the US.