Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan’s Family Separation Denial

In an interview with the LA Times published early Monday morning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan set out to clarify CBP’s systematic practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Rather than provide real clarification, however, McAleenan’s comments continued the trend of Trump administration officials attempting to justify this unprecedented and horrific policy by spinning the truth and, worse, by making specious claims with little to no basis in fact. 

When asked how CBP was handling family separations, McAleenan at first forcefully denied that an official policy regarding separating children from parents even exists: “We do not have a policy of administrative separation.” But, this is misleading. While the statement is technically true — the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy does not explicitly mention family separation — in practice, it is meaningless. Prosecuting every person who crosses the border somewhere other than a port of entry necessitates criminal detention. If a person has children with her, that necessitates taking the children away. As the AP has noted, “while separating families might not be official U.S. policy, it is a direct consequence of Sessions’ zero-tolerance approach.”

Tell Homeland Security to stop separating children from their families

As the interview went on, McAleenan’s statements only became more deceptive. When CBP separates families, McAleenan reasoned, it is “only if the adults are being prosecuted or if there’s a determination made by the agent there’s not actually a family relationship, which has happened several hundred times just in the sector this year.” A moment later, McAleenan clarified that figure: In the Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year alone, the commissioner claimed, there have been 600 cases of people “pretend[ing] to be families even if they’re not.” According to McAleenan, hundreds of smugglers a year are snatching children to bring with them as they cross into the U.S., all in the hopes that they will avoid detention if they pretend to be a family unit. 

But if this is true, why have we not seen equally large-scale prosecutions and convictions for child smuggling and trafficking? In fact, when pressed, the government fails to provide any evidence of such convictions. While we haven’t come across evidence of any massive child smuggling schemes, what we do have ample evidence of is CBP’s relentless practice of tearing children from their actual parents without making any effort to determine the parental relationship.

There is our client, Ms. L, for example, who, despite following the government’s own instructions for seeking asylum — crossing at an official port of entry — had her 7-year-old daughter taken from her with no explanation. The two were not reunited until 4 months later, and only after the ACLU filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ordered a DNA test, which proved maternity. Then there is Mirian G., who also sought asylum at a port of entry, and yet still had her 18-month-old son taken from her for over two months. In that case, Border Patrol agents ordered Mirian to strap her baby into a car seat while refusing to answer her repeated questions about why they were being separated. When McAleenan cites hundreds of cases in which there was suspected smuggling, it undoubtedly includes stories like those of our clients.

According to McAleenan, this massive smuggling scheme — for which there is no evidence — can be traced back to what he refers to as “the catch-and-release loophole” created by the settlement of the 2015 class-action lawsuit, Flores. In truth, though, Flores is not a loophole, it is a consent decree designed to prevent the prolonged detention of children. It requires that children be released from custody without unnecessary delay; that if they are detained, that they are kept in the “least restrictive setting” possible; and that standards be set for the basic care of children in detention. It would be perverse to cite a prohibition on jailing immigrant children as the reason for this administration's systematic separation of families.

If the Trump administration’s real priority was to ensure the wellbeing of children, then it would not have ended the Family Case Management Program, which allowed families to be released together, but into a program that would ensure that they appeared for court proceedings. Again, this is not a loophole, but rather an alternative to family separation that prevented needless and expensive detention. Moreover, it was hugely effective: The initiative boasted a 99.6 percent appearance rate at immigration court hearings for those enrolled in the program.

Clearly, though, this administration’s priorities have never been so noble. The true purpose of family separation is clear: To treat families seeking refuge in the U.S. so poorly that fewer people will do so in the future. Try as they might, no amount of dishonesty and spin on the part of McAleenan and other administration officials could disguise that fact.

Trump's Family Separation Crisis: How to Help

View comments (64)
Read the Terms of Use

Dr. Timothy Leary

Whatever they do with these people, someone, somewhere is going to find fault with it. Some people here in America think that they should be sent back over the border by a catapult. Naturally someone will find fault with that plan too.


There's no such thing as "these people." There's just us. Who wouldn't leave their country to seek asylum when their is violence, etc.? I would and you probably would to. Try to see from the point of view of "these people."

Dr. Timothy Leary

I am indeed familiar with "these people". My employer used to require me to pick them up at the City of Houston's Centro De Trabajo and use them in my line of work. My own personal objection to "these people" coming to America, legally or not, is that they are coming into a 21st Century country from counties still in the 19th Century. Not only do they not speak the common language here, but they don't know what they are doing business wise. It's is hard enough for a native born, collage educated, American citizen to deal with all the complications and paper work involved in our modern society. "These people" have absolutely no idea what they are doing.


I have a solution to all your problems! Don't come here ILLEGALLY OR AT ALL! We have loopholes in our laws that make it impossible to do anything about this problem without being criticized. What is the opposite of this? Let whoever that wants to come in come? Open borders? It has to starts somewhere. For those calling people that agree with this practice as horrible people, please get off your moral high horse. These choices aren't easy but someone has to make them! Do you even know the number of people who have entered this country ILLEGALLY? MILLIONS!


Unless you are a Native American, your parents/grandparents/great grandparents/some other ancestor came into this country from elsewhere. Perhaps legally, perhaps illegally. Do you know the facts regarding your presence in this country as a citizen? I'm guessing not. So yes, we will stay on our moral high ground as long as it takes to protest children being taken away from their parents who are seeking asylum. Persons seeking asylum in the U.S. have certain rights that the ACLU is working to protect, and I am proud to be a monthly supporter.


You do realize that we were never "invited" to this continent to murder and destroy a population of people called Native Americans or Indians., you wont find that in grammar school history books btw... most would call genocide, so this doesent surprise me at all when dimwits like yourself think you are granted passage to this land just because you were born here.


Let’s see Jeff Sessions personally in the border separating families, pulling babys and children at the hands of there parents does he will enjoy doing that,
Stop separating families,

Henry O'Lague

God bless ICE, HSI and US Customs and Border Patrol.


Its bad to seerate kids from parents, but these peole5 bring sickness and diseases to our country and breaking the law crossing over and taching their kids to break the law. Yes its wrong, but to PROTECT our country and our childrens from the law breakers all step has to be taken to secure the health and safety of AMERICA.


One can only see past cases of "illegal immigrants " coming to t inherited great country known throughout the world as thel and of opportunity. Except for generations born on US soil everyone for the most part has been part of a family whose ancestors came to this country legal or not. We are speaking of children and not some cock eyed criminal. Trump has been as close to provoking total hate against all not of the Caucasian Race. The WALL is no different than the wall built in Berlin after WWll due to HATE is no different than the wall he wants to build along our borders. It is why we have tenfold of immigration officers at our borders. Must we build wall throughout American Cities to separate everyone by race. The past is proof tjis kind of government does not work and only oppress those struggling to survive the hate we live in our country.


Stay Informed