immigrant families separated border fact check tapper orig_00011408.jpg
immigrant families separated border fact check tapper orig_00011408.jpg
Now playing
03:58
Fact-checking Trump's claim on family separation
banon wayne split
banon wayne split
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
02:00
Trump pardons 73 people, commutes sentences of 70 others
US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (2nd L) with husband Douglas Emhoff and US President-elect Joe Biden (R) with wife Dr. Jill Biden watch as a Covid-19 Memorial is lighted at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2021 to honor the lives of those lost to Covid-19. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (2nd L) with husband Douglas Emhoff and US President-elect Joe Biden (R) with wife Dr. Jill Biden watch as a Covid-19 Memorial is lighted at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2021 to honor the lives of those lost to Covid-19. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:42
'Striking': Tapper on Biden's Covid-19 memorial being first of its kind
trump farewell message
trump farewell message
PHOTO: White House Photo
Now playing
03:18
Trump offers 'best wishes' to new administration in farewell address
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: The U.S. Capitol dome is seen beyond a security fence on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. After last week
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: The U.S. Capitol dome is seen beyond a security fence on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. After last week's riots at the U.S. Capitol Building, the FBI has warned of additional threats in the nation's capital and in all 50 states. According to reports, as many as 25,000 National Guard soldiers will be guarding the city as preparations are made for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th U.S. President. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Now playing
01:15
12 Army National Guard members removed from inauguration duty
Trump turns to reporters as he exits the White House to walk toward Marine One on the South Lawn on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Trump turns to reporters as he exits the White House to walk toward Marine One on the South Lawn on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.
PHOTO: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Now playing
04:13
'He is actually worried': Collins reports on Trump pardon meeting
Left to right: Janet Yellen, Alejandro Mayorkas, Avril Haines, Lloyd Austin, and Antony Blinken
Left to right: Janet Yellen, Alejandro Mayorkas, Avril Haines, Lloyd Austin, and Antony Blinken
PHOTO: AFP & Getty Images
Now playing
04:32
Take a look at Biden's top cabinet nominees
Now playing
01:50
Ashley Biden on Beau's memory and the White House transition
PHOTO: Pool/Getty Images
Now playing
02:04
Mitch McConnell: Capitol rioters were fed lies
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:51
Why Black voters are hopeful for change under Biden administration
Bill Barr itvnews
Bill Barr itvnews
PHOTO: itv news
Now playing
02:22
Election fraud rhetoric 'precipitated riots' says Barr
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
01:49
Reporter details differences between Trump and Biden's inaugurations
Now playing
03:11
Avlon looks back at Trump's Inauguration Day promises
Nuclear codes Biden Trump
Nuclear codes Biden Trump
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
02:22
From Trump to Biden: How transfer of nuclear codes will work
Now playing
04:22
Trump's influential supporters spoke of what was coming before riot
McCarthy
McCarthy
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:40
'Far too close:' Army secretary reveals sobering details on riot
(CNN) —  

The Trump administration was drafting policy to separate families apprehended at the US-Mexico border as early as December 2017, according to a draft memo released Thursday night, despite later claims that no such policy existed.

Sen. Jeff Merkley released a 2017 memo drafted by senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice detailing the plans.

“This memo really nails down the lies the administration was telling the public,” the Oregon Democrat told CNN. “The secretary of homeland security said that they did not have a policy of child separation. Well, this memo shows that there was a high-level discussion planning for that.”

He added: “The big picture here is while the President is talking about a crisis on the border – from rapists and murderers flooding into America – the administration is talking internally about families applying for asylum and developing a strategy to deter them by the US government inflicting trauma on children.”

Responding to the release of the memo, DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said, “The Trump administration has made clear that all legal options are on the table to enforce the rule of law, rein in mass unchecked illegal immigration, and defend our borders.” Waldman cited an increase in apprehensions in December 2017 as reason for the concern.

“It would be malpractice to not seriously examine every single avenue to gain operational control of the border and ensure that those who are entering our country have a legal right to be here,” she added.

The draft memo, which Merkley said he had received via a government whistleblower, provides a snapshot of the extent the administration was willing to go to deter migrants from trekking to the US-Mexico border, ranging from separating families to possibly denying children asylum hearings. It was previously reported by NBC News.

The draft, dated December 2017, includes plans to separate families months before the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy was announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Under a section dubbed “short term (next 30 days) options,” the memo says: “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. …”

It goes on to note that advocacy groups were aware of the possible changes and preparing to “bring a class action lawsuit.” As a result, “close coordination with DOJ will also be required.” The intent of prosecuting parents, as stated in the memo: “the increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have substantial deterrent effect.”

The draft memo comes amid a partial government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s border wall and a new inspector general report revealing that the number of children separated from a parent or guardian last year far surpassed previously reported figures.

This story has been updated.

CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.