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Former Trump official told US attorneys there should be no age limit on child separations, report says

Comments made from then-deputy attorney general in 2018 have come to light regarding the zero-tolerance child separation policy.

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 23 July 2020 23:45 BST
Donald Trump says he will be 'signing an immigration act very soon' which will be ' based on merit'

Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general, told US attorneys that there was no categorical exception for children under five under the then-active Trump Administration child separation policy for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally.

The discussion occurred in 2018 on a conference call meant to clarify the "zero-tolerance" implementation of the Trump Administration's policy.

A source told the Guardian that the call shocked some of the border-state prosecutors involved because it meant that children under five could be separated from their families.

Prosecutors feared that children under five might not know their own names or the names of their parents, which would increase the risk that they'd get lost in the system.

During the duration of the order — which lasted from 6 April 2018 to 20 June 2018 and was only ended by executive order after mounting public and legal pressure was applied to Donald Trump and his administration — immigrant parents were separated from their children and deported to their home countries.

While the order was in place, 2,814 children were separated from their parents, with 105 of those being under the age of five, and 1,033 being under the age of 10.

Under the Barack Obama administration, children were allowed to stay with detained parents unless the children were believed to be in danger.

Mr Trump's orders were part of a crack-down on illegal immigration and are considered by human rights experts to be among the worst human rights violations to occur during his presidency.

Mr Rosenstein said the only exception prosecutors could make to the order was in the event that a child only spoke an indigenous language or if they had an intellectual disability and even then only on a case-by-case basis.

"Federal prosecutors did not separate parents from children. The policy the attorney general adopted for the Department of Justice in April 2018 was unambiguous: every defendant the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] arrested and referred for prosecution would be evaluated by federal prosecutors without any categorical exemption," Mr Rosenstein said in a statement to The Guardian.

The policy was eventually ruled unconstitutional by federal Judge Dana Sabraw, who called the practice "brutal" and "offensive" in its intention to sever the "sacred tie between parent and child."

A former US Department of Justice official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Guardian that the DoJ only prosecuted cases sent to it by the US Department of Homeland Security.

"DHS repeatedly complained to the White House that DoJ was not prosecuting enough cases. They were driving the train," the former official said.

Though Mr Rosenstein is not considered the driving force behind the child separation practice — which is attributed to then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions — he has publicly defended the zero-tolerance policy.

During an American Bar Association conference in August 2018, Mr Rosenstein said he believed the policy was consistent with the law and was proportionally appropriate to the severity of illegal immigration into the US.

"It would be wrong to say we're prosecuting everyone without regard to the law," he said.

He claimed that the DoJ at the time was using its resources to ensure everyone was "treated equally under the law."

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