March 7 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said his agency is considering separating undocumented children from their parents if caught illegally crossing the border.
The proposal would allow U.S. immigration officials to separate children from the adults with whom they came, he told CNN. While the adults could be kept in detention, the children would be moved under protected status elsewhere.
"Yes I'm considering [that] in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network," Kelly told CNN. "I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents."
On Jan. 25, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to strip federal grant money from so-called "sanctuary cities" -- U.S. municipalities that protect undocumented immigrants from federal prosecution. Trump's order also seeks to hire 10,000 additional immigration officers, to build more detention centers and to prioritize undocumented immigrants for deportation.
Officials could move the separated children under protective status to be with family members in the United States or to keep them under state protective custody such as child services. Kelly said the primary objective of separating children from adults is to discourage further illegal entry via dangerous smuggling networks.
Kelly said "it is more important to me ... to try to keep people off of this awful network."
"We have tremendous experience of dealing with unaccompanied minors," Kelly said. "We turn them over to [the Department of Health and Human Services] and they do a very, very good job of putting them in foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States."
Some immigration advocates have criticized the DHS' proposal to separate children from their parents or guardians.
"It's unbelievable," Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney from Buffalo, N.Y., who often represents undocumented children, said. "He's going to be traumatizing young children even more than they are by pulling them from their mother's arms ... Who knows what they're going to do with them?"
"Bottom line: Separating mothers and children is wrong," Cuellar said in a statement. "That type of thing is where we depart from border security and get into violating human rights."