Memo Shows DHS Did Discuss Ordering Family Separations

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has blamed old laws for forcing the government's hand in splitting up families.
Posted at 9:09 PM, Sep 28, 2018

When news outlets first broadcast this footage of migrant families separated at the border, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen clarified some things.

She tweeted: "This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. ... We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period."

In a press briefing, she blamed old laws for forcing the government's hand in splitting up families. 

What she didn't say: Her department did discuss her authority to order that families be separated. 

newly released memo specifically said she has the authority to direct the separation of immigrant families so the parents can be prosecuted.

The memo also explores three different options to reduce illegal immigration. The options are redacted, so we can't say for sure whether any of them outline plans to separate families. But the memo's authors recommended the third option because it would "pursue prosecution of all amenable adults who cross our border illegally, including those presenting with a family unit." Some take that to mean the third option must have advocated for the separation of families so the parents could be prosecuted. 

The signature on the document is redacted, but a DHS spokesperson confirmed to The Intercept it was signed by Nielsen.

Even with the publication of the memo, a DHS spokesperson insisted that the policy was never meant to scare off families from making the journey. She told BuzzFeed News, "The memo simply states the premise that DHS has the legal authority to take an action. However, it did not direct a policy of family separation for the purposes of deterrence."

The memo was obtained by Open The Government and Project on Government Oversight through the Freedom of Information Act. 

More than 2,000 kids were separated from their parents under the administration's policies. And two months after a federal judge ordered the government to reunite those families, 136 kids are still without their parents. That's either because their parents were deported without them or because the government is concerned that their parents may pose a danger to them.