The United States Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal seeking to separate women and children who cross the US border together illegally, Reuters reported on Friday. According to the proposal, the children will be put under protective custody, while their parents contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings, unidentified government officials told the news agency.

The proposal essentially seeks to prevent mothers from migrating into the US with their children illegally. As many as 54,000 children and their guardians were held between October 2016 and January 2017 for entering US without authorisation, according to Reuters.

Currently, families who contest deportation or apply for asylum are allowed to live freely in the country till their cases are solved. The officials are believed to have said that President Donald Trump wants to end this process wherein migrants are released from detention quickly.

According to the proposal, the protective custody for children with the Department of Health and Human Services will be the “least restrictive setting” until the children can be either handed over to a relative living in the US or to a state-sponsored guardian.

In a statement to Reuters, the Homeland Security said children who are brought into the country illegally, are often “exploited, abused or may even lose their lives”. For their safety, the department is exploring options that will prevent the families “from even beginning the journey”, the statement said.