The Trump administration is to seek the criminal prosecution of every person caught trying to enter the US illegally, a policy that will likely split up more families and which the government hopes will act as a deterrent.
Under a new directive issued by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, agents are to pursue a “zero-tolerance policy” as outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It means that even if someone caught at the border illegally has a valid asylum claim, they could have a federal criminal conviction on their record, even if a judge later decides they have the right to stay in the country legally.
The separation of families, often for lengthy periods of times, was something that members of a migrants’ caravan that arrived at the US’s southern border late last month, were warned about by US lawyer providing free advice.
“We are the bearers of horrible news,” Los Angeles-based lawyer Nora Phillips told the Associated Press in Tijuana, while holding free legal workshops for migrants two weeks ago. “That’s what good attorneys are for.”
Confirming the new policy at an appearance in Arizona on Monday, Mr Sessions said: “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offence, we’re going to prosecute you.”
Speaking at a gathering of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, he added: “If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”
Politico said the stepped up enforcement of federal immigration law comes as arrests on the border have climbed in recent months. It said Border Patrol agents caught about 38,000 people at the US-Mexico border in April, more than three times the level during the same month a year earlier.
The DHS has said there had been a significant increase in apprehensions at the border over the 12 months, including the number of family units and “unaccompanied alien children”. “From April 2017 to April 2018, the number of apprehensions and inadmissible aliens tripled,” said a DHS official, asking not to be identified.
According to the AP, Mr Sessions said: “The Department of Justice will take up as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 per cent.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the Trump administration, seeking to halt the separation of families at the border. Last week, seeking a preliminary injunction to prohibit family separation unless the parent is determined to be unfit or poses a danger to the child, the organisation sued on behalf of a Congolese woman who was separated from her seven-year-old daughter for five months after seeking asylum at a San Diego border crossing.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies