Sen. Jeff MerkleyKirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDem senator requests FBI investigate Nielsen for potential perjury Schumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border Trump officials discussed ‘deterrent effect’ of prosecuting migrant parents: report MORE for possible perjury regarding comments she made about the administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.Jeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDem senator requests FBI investigate Nielsen for potential perjury Trump officials discussed ‘deterrent effect’ of prosecuting migrant parents: report Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest partial shutdown MORE (D-Ore.) on Friday requested that the FBI investigate Homeland Security Secretary
“The FBI has previously indicated that the Department of Justice requires a formal criminal referral from Congress to initiate an investigation concerning Congressional testimony,” Merkley said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “I write today to execute such a criminal referral.”
“Compelling new evidence has emerged revealing that high-level Department of Homeland Security officials were secretly and actively developing a new policy and legal framework for separating families as far back as December 2017,” he added.
Neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immediately responded to requests for comment.
Merkley on Thursday provided NBC News with a draft document of what would eventually become the White House’s immigration policy. The senator’s office said the December 2017 document was leaked to them by a government whistleblower.
In the draft, Trump administration officials discussed targeting parents of migrant families with prosecution as a deterrent, saying the “increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and would have a substantial deterrent effect.”
The draft also said DHS was “considering separating family units, placing the adults in adult detention and placing the minors under the age of 18 in the custody of [the Department of Health and Human Services] as unaccompanied alien children.”
A Justice Department official suggested in the document that Customs and Border Protection agents could deny asylum hearings to children who had already been separated from their parents.
“If CBP issues an ER [expedited removal] for the entire family unit, places the parents in the custody of the U.S. Marshal, and then places the minors with HHS, it would seem that DHS could work with HHS to actually repatriate [deport] the minors then,” the official wrote.
It is unclear from the draft whether the government planned on reunifying children with their parents prior to the deportation.
The policy “was specifically designed to gain media attention and generate a ‘substantial deterrent effect,’ ” Merkley wrote in his letter to Wray. “Despite this fact, while testifying under oath before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Secretary Nielsen stated unequivocally ‘I’m not a liar, we’ve never had a policy for family separation.’ “
DHS responded to NBC News, saying that it was considering “all legal options” to deal with the “crisis” on the southern border.
“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,” DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman told NBC regarding the document.