More than 650 children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border during a two-week period in May, according to the government’s own figures. On Tuesday, the UN Office for Human Rights condemned the practice and told the U.S. to halt immediately. William Brangham reports that these separations are happening in large part due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Zero Tolerance policy.
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There were fresh calls today for the Trump administration to end its policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
William Brangham begins our coverage.
The numbers show the scope of the crisis. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's own figures, more than 650 children were separated from their parents at the border during a two-week period in May.
Just today in Geneva, the U.N. Office for Human Rights condemned the situation.
There is nothing normal about detaining children. The U.S. should immediately halt this practice of separating families and stop criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offense.
These separations are occurring in large part because, in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a zero tolerance policy at the border. Sessions directed authorities to criminally prosecute all instances of illegal border crossings.
Under past administrations, these were usually treated as civil cases. The Department of Justice correctly points out that its new policy makes no mention of separating families, but, under criminal proceedings, children cannot stay with their parents, so they are separated.
During an appearance today on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, Sessions again defended the policy.
If people don't want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.
We have got to get this message out. You're not given immunity. You have to — you will be prosecuted if you bring — if you come illegally. And if you bring children, you will still be prosecuted.
Democrats and immigration rights groups argue these separations are the clear intention of administration policy, but President Trump blames Democrats, tweeting, "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."
The president is likely referring to laws passed under previous administrations, including one OKed unanimously by Congress in 2008, and signed by President George W. Bush. It called for releasing immigrant children into the least restrictive setting while their cases went through immigration court.
All this led Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley to visit the Texas border region Sunday. Video showed his attempt to enter a federal facility where some of these immigrant children were being held. He was denied entry, the police were eventually called, and Merkley was told to leave.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.:
They don't want anyone to know about what's going on behind those doors.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the children, accused Merkley of grandstanding.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.