Trump administration officials once weighed speeding up the deportation of illegal immigrant children by denying them their legal right to asylum hearings after separating them from their parents, NBC News reported.
Citing comments from a Dec. 16, 2017, draft of what became the administration's family separation policy, NBC News reported officials wanted to specifically target parents for increased prosecutions.
The authors noted the "increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have a substantial deterrent effect," NBC News reported.
The draft plan was provided to NBC News by the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., which says it was leaked by a government whistleblower.
In the draft "Policy Options to Respond to Border Surge of Illegal Immigration," officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security laid out options, some of which were later implemented and others that haven’t been put into effect, the news outlet reported.
At the time, the number of illegal immigrants trying to cross the southern border was 40,519 compared to 58,379 in December 2016.
In one comment in the draft, the Justice Department official suggests Customs and Border Protection could see children separated from their parents would be denied for an asylum hearing before an immigration judge, which is typically awarded to children who arrive at the border alone, the news outlet reported.
Instead, the entire family would be given an order of "expedited removal" and then separated, placing the child in the care of HHS in U.S. Marshall's custody while both await deportation, NBC News reported.
It is unclear whether the government planned on reunifying children with their parents before they were deported. A DHS official told NBC News the draft's authors' intent was to enable agencies to reunify families after they were separated for prosecution.
It is also not clear whether the administration rejected the idea of targeting children or whether the idea is still under consideration, NBC News reported.
In a statement, DHS Spokeswoman Katie Waldman said, "The Trump administration has made clear that all legal options are on the table to enforce the rule of law, rein in mass unchecked illegal immigration, and defend our borders. In December of 2017, we saw the number of apprehensions increasing as a result of the Flores Settlement Agreement, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and a lack of physical barrier on the Southern Border."
"In part we were predicting — and trying to prevent — the exact humanitarian and security crisis we are confronted by now," Waldman said. "It would be malpractice to not seriously examine every single avenue to gain operational control of the border and ensure that those who are entering our country have a legal right to be here."
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