Homeland Security considering proposal to separate children from adults at border

A one-year-old from El Salvador clings to his mother after she turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents on December 7, 2015 near Rio Grande City, Texas. They had just illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas. The mother said she brought her son on the 24-day journey from El Salvador to escape violence in the Central American country. The number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors has again surged in recent months, even as the total number of illegal crossings nationwide has gone down over the previous year. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A one-year-old from El Salvador clings to his mother after she turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents on December 7, 2015 near Rio Grande City, Texas. They had just illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas. The mother said she brought her son on the 24-day journey from El Salvador to escape violence in the Central American country. The number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors has again surged in recent months, even as the total number of illegal crossings nationwide has gone down over the previous year. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal to separate children from adults when they are trying to enter the country illegally at the southern border, a senior DHS official confirmed to CNN on Friday.

The proposal is meant to deter the exploitation of children, the official said: “We are trying to find ways to deter the use of children in illegal immigration,” he said. “We are seeing kids essentially kidnapped and used to get here and stay.”

Currently, when adults enter the country accompanied by children, they are generally released into the US and able to stay in the country, pending disposition of their cases, the official said.

Children are being exploited in multiple ways, the official said: Parents are taking them on dangerous journeys and smugglers and non-parents are claiming the children as their own in order to enter and stay in the United States, he said. The official was unable to say how agents at the border determine family relationships.

“People are taking advantage of the system,” the official said, acknowledging there may be perception issues with the proposal.

The proposal would allow US immigration officials to separate children from the adults they came here with. The adults could be kept in detention, and the children could be moved elsewhere under protected status, possibly with family members already in the country or to state protective custody, such as child protective services.

No final decision has been made on the proposal, which is still being worked on by staff, the official said.

Reuters first reported the proposal.

By Mary Kay Mallonee, CNN