On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors “to adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy for all offenses” related to the misdemeanor of improper entry into the United States, and that this “zero-tolerance policy shall supersede any existing policies”.
On May 7 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the U.S. will take a stricter stance on illegal crossings at the Mexico border by separating parents from children, rather than keeping them together in detention centers.
At a law enforcement event in Scottsdale, Arizona, Sessions said:
“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.”
“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.”
“We are dealing with a massive influx of illegal aliens across our Southwest Border. But we’re not going to stand for this.”
From April 19 to May 31, some 1,995 children were separated from roughly as many adults at the U.S. border.
On June 15 2018, Trump tweeted:
“The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!”
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said:
“It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
What happens to the children?
Upon being separated from their parents, children are officially designated “unaccompanied alien children” by the US government — a category that typically describes people under the age of 18 who come to the US without an adult relative arriving with them. Under federal law, unaccompanied alien children are sent into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The ORR is responsible for identifying and screening the nearest relative or family friend living in the US to whom the child can be released.
On June 5 2018, Trump tweeted:
“Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together! Started the Wall.”
This is fake news. There is no law that requires immigrant families to be separated. The decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry — and the decision to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum — are both decisions the Trump administration has made.
The policy was suspended on June 20 2018, for an indefinite period of time following an executive order.