WASHINGTON • The United States is considering separating immigrant children from their parents to deter illegal migration.
"I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America from getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up through Mexico into the United States," Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly said during a CNN interview on Monday when asked whether it was weighing an initiative that would split children from their parents if they were caught trying to enter the US illegally.
He added that if parents were detained in custody, the DHS would turn the children over to the Health and Human Services department to put them in foster care or link them with other family members in the US. "We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors," he said.
Currently, families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and can remain in the US until their cases are resolved.
US Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat whose district includes about 320km of the border with Mexico, slammed the plan.
"Bottom line: Separating mothers and children is wrong," he said.
President Donald Trump ran on a platform arguing that mass immigration by unskilled workers costs US taxpayers billions of dollars and depresses wages and job opportunities. Federal agents have made sweeps across the country in recent weeks rounding up undocumented immigrants.
Mr Kelly spoke after Mr Trump signed a revised ban on refugees and travellers from six Muslim-majority nations, replacing the president's first executive order which was rejected by federal courts. Legal experts said the Trump administration now faces fresh legal challenges over the second, somewhat less restrictive ban.
The new, scaled-back order freezes refugee admissions for 120 days and halts new visas for Syrians, Iranians, Libyans, Somalis, Yemenis and Sudanese citizens for 90 days.
Mr Trump replaced his Jan 27 order by dropping Iraq from the list of countries. It no longer bans Syrian refugees indefinitely, nor does it favour Christians. Permanent legal residents, also known as green card holders, and travellers with a valid visa are exempt.
The overarching question is whether the revised order can withstand some of the same legal challenges that doomed the first, including whether it unlawfully discriminates based on religion.
"The Trump administration has conceded that its original Muslim ban was indefensible," said Mr Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project.
"Unfortunately, it has replaced it with a scaled-back version that shares the same fatal flaws."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES, REUTERS