A bipartisan group of more than 70 former US attorneys are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse the Trump administration’s policy of prosecuting all people who cross the border illegally, saying it is “dangerous, expensive, and inconsistent” with the values of the Justice Department.
“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. And like a majority of Americans, we are appalled that your Zero Tolerance policy has resulted in the unnecessary trauma and suffering of innocent children,” the prosecutors wrote on Medium in a post published Tuesday morning.
The most visible byproduct of the Trump administration’s practice, known as “zero tolerance,” has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents when apprehended at the border, because unaccompanied minors can only be held in immigration detention for a short period of time.
Trump administration officials have said they do not want to separate children from their parents, but have also vigorously defended the policy over the last week as it has come under growing scrutiny and a number of high-profile Republicans have called for an end to the practice.
“We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully … placing those children at risk,” Sessions said Monday. “They can go to our ports of entry if they want to claim asylum and they won’t be arrested.”
Yet the prosecutors in Tuesday’s letter say requiring 100% enforcement of the policy, without exceptions, was an “ill-conceived” plan.
“US Attorneys under both Republican and Democratic administrations have for decades been given discretion to determine how and when to charge misdemeanor illegal entry cases to address the needs of their districts,” they added. “Now, under your policy, because children cannot accompany their arrested parents to an adult criminal detention center, these children, apparently including infants and toddlers, are routinely separated from their parents.”
Prosecutors from both Republican and Democratic administrations signed on to the letter, including Preet Bharara, the former US attorney in Manhattan, and Chuck Rosenberg, the former acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and former US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The Trump administration has vigorously defended its zero-tolerance policy amid outrage over the family separations. Speaking at the White House Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reiterated the administration’s position that it is enforcing the law and called on Congress to take action. Previous administrations, however, have avoided separating parents from their children, instead releasing families with court dates for immigration proceedings and various monitoring tactics.
Asked about the policy on Fox News Monday night, Sessions said authorities are “taking care of these children.”