Washington (AFP) – US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that US policy to separate illegal immigrant children from their families is aimed at ending “lawlessness” at the border.
Defending a policy that has provoked an outcry around the country and accusations of human rights violations, Sessions said the government is trying to halt a five-fold increase in the number of families illegally crossing the border in just four years.
“We do not want to separate children from their parents,” he said in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, either, placing them at risk.”
Sessions said the issue was “whether we want to be a country of laws or whether we want to be a country without borders.”
“It is one of the reasons the American people elected President Trump — to end the lawlessness at our southern border.”
In the six weeks after Sessions announced the new policy on May 7, nearly 2,000 minors were separated from their parents or adult guardians after they entered the country.
Most of those parents have asked for asylum, saying they are escaping incessant violence in their homes in Central America.
The Trump administration policy is to first charge them with a crime — illegally crossing the border — before processing their asylum claims.
Meanwhile, their children are taken away to separate holding facilities, to be reunited sometime later.
Sessions blamed loopholes in US immigration laws for encouraging the jump in asylum-seekers entering the country illegally.
“We cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws,” he said.
He also said that the government is already spending $1 billion a year taking care of children who entered the country illegally, with families or unaccompanied.
“When we ignore our laws at the border we obviously encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country, creating an enormous burden on our law enforcement, our schools, our hospitals, and social programs,” he said.
Meanwhile Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration policy, said many of those coming to the borders as family groups were in fact not families.
She said human trafficking groups are putting children with others and training them to ask for asylum as families to skirt US immigration laws.
Only about 20 percent of those seeking asylum actually merit it, she said.
“Our system for asylum is broken,” she said.