Earlier this year, the Trump administration faced intense backlash for a “zero tolerance” policy on immigration that took children away from their parents. According to The Hill, the White House is looking into new options that would allow it to continue the practice.
The new policy would give parents arrested at the border an option: They could either stay with their children in detention for an unspecified amount of time, or they could let their kids be separated from them. If parents opted for the second choice, their children would be taken to government-run shelters, where relatives could try to obtain custody of them.
“Career law enforcement professionals in the U.S. government are working to analyze and evaluate options that would protect the American people, prevent the horrific actions of child smuggling, and stop drug cartels from pouring into our communities,” press secretary Hogan Gidley told the Washington Post.
This new policy is being called a “binary choice” option and seeks to step away from the controversial forced separations taking place under the zero-tolerance policy. Officials are also looking into a way to withdraw from a court agreement reached in 1997 that prevents immigration from detaining children for over 20 days.
After bowing to pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike in June, the Trump administration backed away from its zero-tolerance policy with an executive order. At that time, courts ruled that separated children must be reunited with their families. During the spring, while the policy was active, at least 2,500 children were separated from their parents and removed to government facilities. About 200 remain in government shelters.
Trump defended his “zero tolerance” policy on multiple different occasions.
“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility — it won’t be,” he said in June.
Trump also blamed Democrats, saying that they were obstructing the process rather than trying to find a solution.
“If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices,” he said.
Despite the government’s official stance, Axios reports that unofficial separations are probably still taking place, and the Trump administration has likely separated more families than has been admitted to in the past.
FYI–you may have seen, or may soon see, a stat floating around about 6,000 separated "family units." That (probably) does not mean 6,000 separated families—it probably means 6,000 _people_ separated. So it's higher than previous stats but not a ton higher https://t.co/oB5ssT6WFK
— Dara Lind (@DLind) October 12, 2018
“The total number of families forcibly separated, and the trauma they have endured under this abusive practice, are still coming to light,” a report from Amnesty International stated.
The White House has not responded to the media’s requests for comment, nor is it clear if there would be legal hurdles to implementing the new “binary choice” policy.