U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the National Sheriffs’ Association Monday morning in New Orleans, Louisiana, delivering a speech riddled with misinformation about the nation’s immigration policies, particularly as they relate to asylum claims.
Sessions defended the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border and alleged that if immigrants simply waited their turn at ports of entry to claim asylum, they would not be arrested.
“We do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn, claiming asylum at ports of entry. They can go to our ports of entry if they want to claim asylum and they won’t be arrested,” Sessions said. “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 added, “We will have a system where those who need to apply for asylum can do so and those who want to come to this country will apply to enter lawfully.”
The process of claiming asylum, even at ports of entry, is not as easy as Sessions makes it out to be, and the new “zero-tolerance” policy he rolled out in April complicates things even further.
The Intercept reported Saturday that the number of asylum seekers being met by U.S. Customs & Border Protection agents (CBP) at ports of entry and turned away illegally could number in the thousands. Many of those being turned away, according to reporters, have followed the rules laid out in Sessions’ speech Monday, to no avail.
A 15-year-old Guatemalan boy and his father, for instance, recently attempted to walk across the border on a bridge connecting El Paso, Texas with its sister city in Mexico, Ciudad Juárez. They did not swim the Rio Grande or enter the country through any other unlawful method. Despite this, according to The Intercept, they were stopped on the bridge by two CBP agents who refused to let them cross and instructed them to go back to Mexico. It was the sixth time in just three days that the father and son were rejected, along with about a dozen other Guatemalans.
Earlier this year, after the “zero-tolerance policy” was implemented, a Honduran family arrived at the McAllen-Hidalgo port of entry to claim asylum after witnessing a cousin’s murder by men dressed as police and being threatened by the killers to leave Honduras or “face consequences.” The family was allowed by Mexican immigration officials to cross the bridge but was stopped by U.S. immigration agents who told them return to Mexico.
Sessions’ speech Monday closely mirrored that of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who also spoke at the same Sheriffs’ Association event and doubled-down on the administration’s new policy. “We will not apologize for doing our job,” she said. “We have sworn to do this job. This administration has a simple message: if you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.”
Sunday evening, hours before her remarks in New Orleans, Nielsen posted a thread of tweets claiming preposterously that the Trump administration had no child separation policy for families detained at the U.S. southern border.
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
Anti-immigrant lawmakers and members of the Trump administration have scrambled to defend the “zero-tolerance” policy since its implementation in early April. Administration officials like Sessions, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have all attempted to excuse the policy using conflicting and often confusing narratives, with Miller claiming that the decision to enact the brutal policy was “simple.”
Both Sessions and Sanders have claimed that enforcing the policy — which they say is “law” (it isn’t) — is, in fact, “biblical.”
The Associated Press last week obtained DHS figures showing that, as a result of the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy, nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their parents by border officials during a six-week span between April 19 and May 31 this year, many of whom were fleeing death threats and seeking safety in the United States.