According to an October 7, 2020 report in the New York Times, an upcoming Inspector General (IG)’s report will show that top Justice Department Officials, in May 2018, including the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, pressed local U.S. Attorneys to prosecute and separate families for prosecution no matter how young the children were.

According to the draft IG report, at one point, the Attorney General is quoted as saying, “We need to take away children” in instructing five US Attorneys that were charged with enforcing the laws along the US-Mexico border. The New York Times article says that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein “went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.”

CWLA had joined hundreds of groups in criticizing the Administration’s child separation policies. Earlier Congressional hearings and reports, including past Children’s Monitor articles, focused on the Department of Homeland Security as the Department most responsible for the actions, but the IG’s report highlights the role of the Justice Department.

The New York Times article also quotes some additional information from the pending IG report:

  • “Government prosecutors reacted with alarm at the separation of children from their parents during a secret 2017 pilot program along the Mexican border in Texas. “We have now heard of us taking breastfeeding defendant moms away from their infants,” one government prosecutor wrote to his superiors. “I did not believe this until I looked at the duty log.”
  • Border Patrol officers missed serious felony cases because they were stretched too thin by the zero-tolerance policy requiring them to detain and prosecute all of the misdemeanor illegal entry cases. One Texas prosecutor warned top Justice Department officials in 2018 that “sex offenders were released” as a result.
  • Senior Justice Department officials viewed the welfare of the children as the responsibility of other agencies and their duty as tracking the parents. “I just don’t see that as a D.O.J. equity,” Mr. Rosenstein told the inspector general.
  • The failure to inform the U.S. Marshals Service before announcing the zero-tolerance policy led to serious overcrowding and budget overruns. The marshals were forced to cut back on serving warrants in other cases, saying that “when you take away manpower, you can’t make a safe arrest.”

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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