Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday defended the Trump administration’s recent policy of separating migrant families apprehended at the border.
“We do not want to separate children from their parents,” he told the National Sheriffs Association in a speech. “We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, either.”
He’d earlier admitted that the policy — in addition to prioritizing the criminal prosecution of parents who for the most part have committed only misdemeanors — was also meant to act as a deterrent.
“We cannot and will not encourage people to bring their children, or other children, to the country unlawfully by giving them immunity in the process,” he said, asserting that families claiming asylum at designated ports of entry, rather than between them, would not be separated.
However, officials at those entry points have often told asylum-seekers they are “at capacity,” leading to days of waiting. And there are some cases of families being apprehended and separated even after approaching a port of entry asserting their asylum rights.
In April, Sessions ordered U.S. attorneys to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting all border crossers. Because children cannot be held in criminal detention, the order has led to a dramatic spike in family separation at the border.
The Trump administration could end the new policy immediately. In Monday’s speech, Sessions showed little willingness to do so.