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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sessions vs. Sessions on Separating Families

Attorney General Jeff Sessions now says that the administration “never really intended” to separate families as part of its zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration. But Sessions had previously acknowledged that that’s what would happen under this policy.

In one interview, Sessions said, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out.”

Sessions made his recent comments in an interview with CBN News (the Christian Broadcasting Network), which posted video clips from the interview on June 21. The attorney general was asked to respond to the “media narrative” that the “optics” of parents being separated from their children hasn’t been good.

“Well, it hasn’t been good and the American people don’t like the idea that we are separating families. We never really intended to do that,” Sessions said. “What we intended to do was to make sure that adults who bring children into the country are charged with the crime they have committed. Instead of giving that special group of adults immunity from prosecution, which is what, in effect, we were doing.”

As we have explained before, referring all of those who cross the border illegally for criminal prosecution, as opposed to using a civil immigration removal process, results in the separation of parents and their children, who can’t be held in adult detention facilities.

Sessions has explained that in the past.

In a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt on June 5, Hewitt asked it if it was “absolutely necessary … to separate parents from children when they are detained or apprehended at the border?”

Sessions, responded: “Yes. What’s happening is we are having more people coming bringing children with them entering between the ports of entry, between the ports of entry illegally, and they’re not, you cannot give them immunity. That’s an offense. We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted. … And so those children are being well taken care of. Within 72 hours, they’re taken to the Health and Human Services to be sure they’re properly cared for. And those persons will have, the adults will be prosecuted like the law requires. …

“We don’t want to do this at all. If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out. You’re not given immunity. You have to, you will be prosecuted if you bring, if you come illegally. And if you bring children, you’ll still be prosecuted.”

That mirrors Sessions’ other comments on the issue. He says the administration doesn’t want to separate families, but because it will criminally prosecute all illegal border crossings, that’s exactly what will happen.

Sessions, June 18: We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, placing them at risk.

But we do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn or claiming asylum at any port of entry. We cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws.

Sessions, June 14: Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution. … However, we are not sending children to jail with their parents. …

Our policies that can result in short term separation of families is not unusual or unjustified. American citizens that are jailed do not take their children to jail with them. And non-citizens who cross our borders unlawfully — between our ports of entry — with children are not an exception.

They are the ones who broke the law, they are the ones who endangered their own children on their trek. The United States on the other hand, goes to extraordinary lengths to protect them while the parents go through a short detention period.

Sessions, May 7We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally and attempt to enter into this country improperly. … The parents are subject to prosecution while children may not be. So, if we do our duty and prosecute those cases, then children inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions.

Sessions, May 7: If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.

On June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep families in custody together during the criminal immigration proceedings. It directed the Department of Homeland Security secretary to do so to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations.”