Sheriffs Applaud As Sessions, Nielsen Defend Border Policy
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With dozens protesting loudly outside the building, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went before a supportive group of the nation's sheriffs Monday to defend a Trump administration policy resulting in separation of children and families at the border.
Both pushed back against any implication that the children are mistreated.
"This country is dedicated to caring for those children," Sessions told a conference of the National Sheriff's Association.
"These minors are very well taken care of," Nielsen said. "Don't believe the press."
Nielsen said critics are unfairly accusing her department of inhuman and immoral actions. "We are doing none of those things. We are enforcing the laws passed by Congress," Nielsen said.
"We cannot detain children with their parents," she said. She said releasing parents with their children amounts to a "get out of jail free card" policy for those who try to cross the border illegally. She called on Congress to reform immigration laws.
Sessions, who was surprised with a lifetime achievement award from the group, echoed her remarks, insisting that the nation's border problems are the result of eight years of ineffective policy under former President Barack Obama. He said allowing immigrants to cross the border with children — and without threat of detention — amounts to a giant legal loophole that invites illegal crossings.
"If we build a wall, if we pass some legislation, we close some loopholes, we won't face these terrible choices," Sessions said.
A Trump administration policy that went into effect in May sought to maximize criminal prosecutions of people caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally. More adults were being jailed, leading to their children being separated from them.
The policy has resulted in nearly 2,000 minors being separated from their families over six weeks and is drawing strong criticism from lawmakers from both parties and advocates who call the tactic inhumane.
Outside the convention hall, angry protesters confronted police. At least one was taken away in handcuffs.
Others waved signs calling for families to be reunited and chanted slogans like "Families belong together!"
Anjali Niyogi and Jebney Lewis came holding their daughter.
"We're both parents. We have a 1½- year-old daughter. Seeing the images and seeing the children who have been locked up and separated from their parents, I think that it's very traumatizing for children. It's traumatizing for their parents," said Niyogi. She said no child deserves to go to such lengths to escape dangers in their own country and come to the United States only to end up separated from their parents.
– by Kevin McGill, AP reporter