Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Tuesday that the family separations policy had resulted in the department “losing public trust” such that “from an enforcement perspective, it’s not worth it,” and reinstating them is not on the table.
McAleenan’s comments come after CNN reporting earlier this month that President Donald Trump pushed to bring back family separations and offered to pardon McAleenan should he be jailed for violating immigration law by shutting the border to asylum seekers. The President has denied both accounts.
“I think the President’s been clear that family separation is not on the table, and again this was a zero tolerance prosecution initiative that was targeted at adults violating the law,” McAleenan told NBC’s Lester Holt. “It did have the impact of several – 2,000-plus – families being separated during that prosecution. They were always intended to be reunited.”
However, a senior White House official told CNN on Tuesday night that family separations of some kind remain under discussion in the administration’s highest levels. Stephen Miller, a senior White House policy adviser and immigration hardliner, is still driving those discussions, and Trump remains receptive to the policy, the official said.
McAleenan also told Holt that while the policy resulting in family separations had a deterring effect, the surrounding controversy rendered it unproductive.
“Prosecuting violations of law does have a consequence, and it does deter behavior,” he said. “But it did not work if you lose the public trust. If you can’t maintain an initiative from an enforcement perspective, it’s not worth it.”
When asked whether Trump had ever promised him a pardon for shutting down the border, McAleenan replied, “So I’m not going to do anything that violates the law, ever.”
“I’m a law enforcement official – I’ve been asked to serve in this role and I’ll carry that out with full focus on my legal duties,” he added. “That said, I’ve never been asked and never been suggested to do anything unlawful by the President or anyone else. And I wouldn’t do it.”
McAleenan also advocated for a border wall as “critical” in certain areas.
“We don’t need it everywhere, but we need it in critical areas of the border,” he said.
CNN’s Jim Acosta contributed to this report.