Former Federal Prosecutors Urge Sessions to End Family Separations
A bipartisan group of more than 70 former United States attorneys is urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end a policy of separating the children of illegal immigrants from their parents at the border, saying his recently announced “zero-tolerance” policy has caused “unnecessary trauma and suffering of innocent children.”
“Like the majority of Americans, we have been horrified by the images and stories of children torn from their families along our nation’s Southwest Border,” the group wrote in a letter issued late Monday.
“But as former United States Attorneys, we also emphasize that the Zero Tolerance policy is a radical departure from previous Justice Department policy, and that it is dangerous, expensive, and inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served,” they wrote.
Under the “zero-tolerance” policy recently announced by Sessions, “100 percent” of immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border would be referred for prosecution, while children and parents would be separated.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said last month while announcing the new initiative. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Statistics released by the Department of Homeland Security show that more than 2,300 children were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9.
Audio recordings and images of young children held at warehouses have sparked a national outcry, with Democrats and some Republicans urging the administration to end the policy.
Administration officials, denying they have a “family separation policy,” have said Congress can put an end to the crisis by passing new immigration laws.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday that the Trump administration “did not create a policy of separating families at the border,” contending that both the Bush and the Obama administrations separated families, albeit at a lower rate.
“This is not new,” Nielsen said. “We have a statutory responsibility that we take seriously to protect alien children from human smuggling, trafficking and other criminal actions, while enforcing our immigration laws,” she told a press conference.
Sessions, speaking at a gathering of the National Sheriffs Association on Monday, stood by the administration’s policy.
“We do not want to separate children from their parents,” he said. “We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, placing them at risk.”
WATCH: Sessions on separating parents, children
Under the new initiative, parents are held at adult detention centers near the border, while children, reportedly including infants and children, are transferred to refurbished shelters, sometimes thousands of miles away.
In their open letter, the former prosecutors wrote that the law “does not require the systematic separation of families under these circumstances.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the letter.