According to meeting notes from the early days of the Trump administration, separating children from their parents at the southern border has been part of President Donald Trump’s plan all along.
Notes from a town hall held for Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers on Feb. 2, 2017, show that the agency's asylum chief, John Lafferty, told the officers they might have to "hold mothers longer" and "hold children in HHR/ORR," an acronym for facilities for children run by HHS.
Notes from the meeting were first obtained by MSNBC.
Though administration officials maintain there is no policy for separating families and insist it is simply the result of current immigration law, the notes suggest that Trump intended to cut down the number of migrants seeking asylum – and separation was floated as a potential tactic.
According to the notes, [Lafferty] provided attendees with the latest asylum numbers, which were at their highest point in 20 years in 2016, and then said the administration was "in the process of reviewing" a number of policies, including separation of parents and children, to try to curb those numbers.
The USCIS director under former President Barack Obama, Leon Rodriguez, told NBC News that families seeking asylum between ports of entry were not prosecuted under his watch.
"We understood that the border had to have integrity," Rodriguez said. "But we also had a pretty deep awareness of why people were coming. There were deep humanitarian issues that were driving them here."
The plan floated early in Trump’s tenure took an entirely different approach:
Instead, it would separate women and children after they’ve been detained – leaving mothers to choose between returning to their country of origin with their children, or being separated from their children while staying in detention to pursue their asylum claim.