Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer

Former immigration attorney Greg Chen sharply criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE on Monday over his family separation policy, which resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant families at the southern border.

Chen, an official at the non-partisan American Immigration Lawyers Association, acknowledged that while former President Obama did separate some children from their parents at the border, he said it did not happen with the same frequency as it did under Trump and that the move marked a new low for the United States. 

“That is a black scar on President Obama’s record in terms of what they did there,” he said, referring to the family separations that took place under Obama.

“But, under this current administration, it’s gotten even worse,” he said. “The use of family separation, the increased numbers [have] really driven this country to the lowest depth possible in terms of our standards with human rights principles and practices.”

Trump's family separation policy faced renewed scrutiny during a congressional hearing last week over treatment and conditions of migrants at the border. 

During the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTrump tweet mocking Greta Thunberg sparks backlash The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasts Tucker Carlson as 'white supremacist sympathizer' MORE (D-N.Y.) confronted former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief Thomas Homan about his zero recommendation to then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official MORE.

Homan had previously urged Nielsen to opt for the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that mandated the prosecution of all adult migrants suspected of crossing the border illegally and led to the separation of parents from their children. 

"So you provided the official recommendation to Secretary Nielsen for the United States to pursue family separation?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.

"I gave Secretary Nielsen numerous recommendations on how to secure the border and save lives," Homan shot back.

The back-and-forth marked one of several contentious exchanges during the hearing. 

Rep. Mark GreenMark GreenTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization Trump says he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terror organizations House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues MORE (R-Tenn.) lashed out at "progressive liberals" for insinuating that Republicans were in favor of maintaining poor conditions at border detention facilities, calling such accusations “wrong and unfair.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCongressional investigation finds Coast Guard leadership fell short on handling bullying Trump request for Ukrainian 'favor' tops notable quote list Impeachment can't wait MORE (D-Md.) responded by advising members of both sides of the aisle to avoid personal attacks.

"I think we all, on both side of the aisle, I think we need to be careful about how we talk about the motives of our colleagues. I believe that everyone is operating in good faith," he said.

The hearing came before ICE began their sweeping immigration raids in several major cities across the U.S. 

These raids are expected to continue into this week. Democrats and advocates, meanwhile, warn that the arrests could lead to further family separations and overcrowding in detention facilities. 

—Tess Bonn