In Bombshell NBC News Story, Merkley Reveals Secret Trump Administration Plan to Create Border Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a bombshell NBC News report, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today revealed a previously secret document that shows the Trump Administration deliberately plotting to create a crisis at the southern border. The memo, dated December 2017, details deliberate plans to implement a family separation policy as a deterrent to would-be asylum seekers and lays out strategies to increase detention of migrant children.

The full NBC report can be read here. The memo is available here.   

“President Trump has shut down the government over a crisis we now know he deliberately created,” said Merkley. “This document shows Trump Administration staffers plotting to create a humanitarian crisis at the border—criminalizing the search for asylum, tearing children from their parents’ arms, and expanding the lock-up of both parents and children. This memo shows that the administration was treating children as political pawns, not vulnerable human beings. That’s reprehensible. We must end this Trump war on migrant children.”  

This document, created by senior Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice officials, reveals the step-by-step process that the Trump Administration undertook in December 2017 to devise and implement a formal policy of deterring asylum seekers using the threat of family separation. This policy options memo barely mentions violent gangs and drugs, focusing instead on a detailed plan to expand detention by increasing prosecutions of asylum seekers. Despite many statements by the President and senior political appointees to the contrary, this document proves that the administration was in fact intentionally and deliberately planning all along to separate families and create a crisis on the southern U.S. border.

The document comes as the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General also revealed today that the administration separated more children than it had previously admitted, and that the administration did not effectively track which of the children in their custody had been separated and where their parents were.

Tonight’s newly-exposed document explicitly reveals that high-level administration officials lied at key points about how and why the Trump Administration created this crisis.  

1: False Claim: There is no child separation policy

Administration claim: DHS Secretary Nielsen “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” (June 17, 2018).  

Under Oath, on December 20, 2018 before the House Judiciary Committee, Nielsen stated again: “I’m not a liar; we’ve never had a policy for family separation.” 

Policy Options Memo: This document shows that as early as December 2017, the administration was actively developing and implementing a policy of family separation.

“2. Separate Family Units. Announce that DHS is considering separating family units, placing the adults in adult detention and placing the minors under the age of 18 in the custody of HHS as unaccompanied alien children…Once legal coordination between DHS, HHS, and DOJ is complete, begin separating family units.”


2: False Claim: Family Separation is an Obama-era policy

Administration claim: DHS Secretary Nielsen “For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law.” (June 17, 2018)

Policy Options Memo: This document makes clear that the administration knew they were implementing new policy that would likely face a legal challenge, not merely continuing existing policy. For example, in reference to the new family separation policy, the author of the document says:

“Advocacy groups are aware that this policy shift may occur and therefore are seeking to identify families who have been separated in order to bring a class action lawsuit.” (p. 1)


3: False Claim: Family separation was not implemented as a deterrent

Administration claim: DHS Secretary Nielsen was asked if the family separation policy was being used as a deterrent, and she replied: “I find that offensive.” (June 18, 2018)

Policy Options Memo: This memo repeatedly emphasizes that the goal of family separation was deterrence.

“the increase in prosecutions would be reported by the  media and it would have substantial deterrent effect” (p.1)


4: False Claim: Unmanageable influxes of violent criminals are forcing the administration to expand detention facilities

Administration claim: President Trump “My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers…We have requested more agents, immigration judges, and bed space” (January 8, 2019)

Policy Options Memo: This document barely mentions violent gangs and drugs, instead focusing on prosecuting and deterring asylum seekers. To criminalize asylum, the memo recommends accusing parents of smuggling their own children across the border.

“Any and all efforts should be made to criminally prosecute those who smuggle their kids into the United States” (page 1 comment section)

This memo shows that the administration knew that their family separation policy would result in increased need for detention space. Under the policy recommendation to prosecute parents, the memo says:

“This will require close coordination with DOJ, to ensure there are sufficient prosecutors at the border and sufficient U.S. Marshal’s [sic] detention space.” (p.1)

The memo goes on to describe how to effectively deter family from coming forward to sponsor children while their asylum cases proceed, keeping children in detention longer. Specifically, one senior administration official said

“I would suggest referring sponsors for criminal prosecution… if information indicates that the sponsor facilitated the travel of the minor into the United States.” Another official says “This would result in a deterrent impact on “sponsors.” (p.2)