The Trump team has been very clear: Child separation is intended as 'deterrent' to refugees
Urgent: We’re raising money to help keep immigrant families together—or bring them back together after separation. Can you give $5?
On Monday Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is a liar, flatly denied the assertion that the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border, placing the children in separate detention camps. was meant to be a «deterrent» to future asylum-seekers, turning the prospect of seeking refugee status in America into a more frightening, and potentially dangerous, prospect. She had good reason to make that denial: International human rights agreements forbid the use of inhumane treatment of refugees as deterrent to others seeking asylum; the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically bars policies of child separation. The United States is, by international standards, in extremely dodgy territory here.
But Neilsen was lying, because the record of the administration publicly and privately stating that the cruel punishment was meant is deterrent is ample. As early as the beginning of March papers were reporting the plan, cited by administration officials as an effort «to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children.» White House chief of staff John Kelly was telling interviewers even at that time that the new policy of child separation would be intended as deterrence:
Yes, I am considering it in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.
By May, Kelly was even more blunt about the then just-announced policy, and was was openly, and soon-to-be-infamously, asserting the same «deterrent» effect. According to Kelly, a large part of administration thinking was not to deter criminals, but because the refugees were «overwhelmingly rural people» who they believe would not «easily assimilate into the United States».
[NPR:] Are you in favor of this new move announced by the attorney general early this week that if you cross the border illegally even if you're a mother with your children [we're going] to arrest you? We're going to prosecute you, we're going to send your kids to a juvenile shelter?
[Kelly:]The name of the game to a large degree. Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English, obviously that's a big thing. They don't speak English. They don't integrate well, they don't have skills. They're not bad people. They're coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.
Again, targeting a non-criminal group of refugees with cruel and unusual punishment as «deterrent» to their entry is an international human rights violation, and targeting children is, of course, worse. It does not make it better that the targets have identified as undesirable («overwhelmingly rural people») or «don't have skills.» This is the rhetoric of ethnic nationalism–or worse.
But there was, to repeat, no question as to where the administration stood or what their motives were: