June 15 (UPI) — Immigrations officials separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents after illegally crossing the border in April and May, the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.
DHS spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on a conference call Friday afternoon that between April 19 and May 31, 1,995 minors were taken from adults who said they were their guardians. The adults were arrested as part of the department’s new “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally, including some seeking asylum.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in early May.
During another speech in San Diego, Calif., Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said there were no new policies in place to separate children from families while crossing the border. The practice of separating children from their parents and placing them in foster care dates back to the George W. Bush administration.
ICE separates adults from children if they are unable to determine whether the adult is a parent and whenever a parent is being prosecuted for a crime. As the Trump administration pushes to reach 100 percent prosecution of illegal crossings and increase prosecution of asylum seekers, more families are being separated.
Previous administrations have found other options to keep families together while they awaited court proceedings, NBC News reported. The Obama administration usually separated children from their guardians only if there were questions about the child’s safety.
On Friday, DHS said prosecutions for illegal crossings have more than doubled in the past two months, though they have not reached 100 percent.
“By and large, we are accepting nearly all of the referrals that we get from our counterparts at DHS, we continue to work with the federal judiciary on practical solutions to differing caps that they have,” a Justice Department official on the call with reporters said. “In terms of declining prosecution, we’re not going to get into specifics.”
Earlier Friday, President Donald Trump said he will not sign a Republican-led compromise bill on immigration that would stop the child separations.
During an interview with Fox and Friends, the president said he’s looked at immigration proposals — including one from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and a more moderate version.
Trump said he “certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one,” which would provide $25 billion in additional funding for a border wall and legal status for migrants who crossed the border illegally as children, including a path to citizenship.
“I hate the children being taken away,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We need a wall. We need border security.”
Earlier this month, activists called for international intervention in the U.S. push to separate migrant children from their parents, a practice the Human Rights Watch called “cruel.”
A coalition of four rights groups and legal organizations submitted a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — a body of the Organization of American States — asking it to “immediately stop a human rights and humanitarian crisis perpetrated by the U.S. government in the Texas-Mexico border.”