Breaking Up Immigrant Families: A Look at the Latest Border Tactic
Ramping up a promised “zero tolerance” immigration policy on the Southwest border, the Justice Department said that 11 members of a caravan of migrants from Central America were being criminally prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.
At least four of those facing criminal charges had children taken from them and placed into separate custody, lawyers for the migrants said, highlighting one of the most contentious aspects of the Trump administration’s new border policies: family separations.
Hundreds of immigrant children have already been separated from their parents at the border since October, and the new policy calling for criminal prosecutions of all those who cross illegally promises to increase that number drastically.
President Trump and his aides at the White House have pushed a family separation policy in order to deter Central American families from trying to cross the border illegally, according to administration officials. The number of families making the journey over land to the United States has soared in recent months after subsiding last year, infuriating the president,who had touted the initial decline as proof that his tough stance on immigration was succeeding.
The new policy on criminal prosecutions became official on Monday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Arizona and California.
“If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Mr. Sessions said. “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”
With few exceptions, the United States has historically treated immigration violations as civil, rather than criminal, offenses, and thus parents have not typically been separated from their children when they enter the legal system.
“This is an additional punitive measure the administration is imposing on parents in an effort to frighten Central Americans, to discourage them from seeking asylum,” said Reuben Cahn, executive director of the Federal Defenders of San Diego, who is representing several of the caravan migrants.
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