President Donald Trump has been urging his staff for months to reinstate large-scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, according to U.S. media reports.
According to CNN, Trump had been pushing outgoing Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, to enforce a stricter and more widespread “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which went further than the original policy started by former attorney general Jeff Sessions last year.
The original policy called for the prosecution of individuals crossing the border illegally between ports of entry, which resulted in children being separated from their parents.
NBC reports Trump has been pushing to reinstate the policy since January, when the numbers of undocumented immigrants crossing the border began to rise.
A senior administration official told NBC that it seems the president was convinced that family separation had been the most effective policy at deterring large numbers of asylum-seekers.
On Sunday, Trump announced in a tweet that U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan would be taking over as acting head of the Department of Homeland Security.
McAleenan is a longtime border official who is well-respected by members of Congress and within the administration. The decision to name a top immigration officer to the post reflects Trump’s priority for the sprawling department founded to combat terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks.
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According to NBC, U.S. officials say that Kevin McAleenan has not ruled out family separation as an option.
Officials reportedly told NBC that McAleenan would consider a policy known as “binary choice,” and would give migrant parents the option between being separated from their children, or bringing their children with them into long-term detention.
Shortly after Trump made the announcement, Nielsen tweeted her resignation letter.
“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Nielsen wrote. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”
On Monday, Nielsen told reporters she still supports the president’s border goals.
“I will continue to support all efforts to address the humanitarian and security crisis on the border,” Nielsen said in her first public remarks since her resignation.
— With files from Reuters