Homeland Security chief says families crossing border illegally won’t be routinely separated

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U.S. Border patrol agents stand at an open gate on the fence along the Mexico border to allow Luis Eduardo Hernandez-Bautista to hug Ty'Jahnae Williams and his father Eduardo Hernandez (not in view) at the Border Field State Park, in California. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake.

U.S. Border patrol agents stand at an open gate on the fence along the Mexico border to allow Luis Eduardo Hernandez-Bautista to hug Ty’Jahnae Williams and his father Eduardo Hernandez (not in view) at the Border Field State Park in California. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake.

WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says parents and children caught crossing the Mexican border illegally won’t be separated unless the “situation at the time requires it.”

Kelly said border agents could separate parents and children if, for instance, the mother is sick or addicted to drugs. But he said it won’t be routine.

Kelly’s comment to a Senate committee appears to reverse earlier statements that his agency was considering separation as a deterrent to would-be border crossers, mostly from Central America.

In his written testimony, Kelly said about 1,100 people traveling as families were caught trying to cross the Mexican border into the United States illegally last month.

Immigrant families and children traveling alone have accounted for hundreds of thousands of arrests at the border in recent years.

Kelly says the sharp decline in people crossing the southern border illegally won’t continue unless his agency gets the resources needed to secure the border. Kelly says a wall in the right places will do that job. He told a Senate panel that the wall won’t be from “sea to shining sea,” but in places where border agents say it would be most effective.

In his written testimony, Kelly says that fewer than 12,500 people were caught crossing the Mexican border illegally in March. It was the lowest monthly tally of arrests at the border in at least 17 years. The decline in arrests is a sign that fewer people are trying to cross the border illegally, he said.

This story will be updated as it develops

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