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