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Sessions Says 'Zero Tolerance' Policy For Border Crossers May Split Families

May 8, 2018 1:40 p.m.

Sessions Says 'Zero Tolerance' Policy For Border Crossers May Split Families


Jean Guerrero, Fronteras reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: Sessions Says 'Zero Tolerance' Policy For Border Crossers May Split Families


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Tuesday, May 8. Was in the US-Mexico border illegally will lead to a criminal prosecution and separation from any children that you bring over with you.
>> I have put in place is zero tolerance policy for illegal entry. If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It is that simple.
>> That is a message that Jeff Sessions brought to the San Diego border yesterday. The Justice Department is launching a new craft that crackdown on border crossers. Also threatening to arrest and prosecute asylum seekers if they cross illegally. How is this a change in U.S. policy toward illegal border crossers?
>> The United States has historically prosecuted people who entered the U.S. border illegally if they were repeat offenders. If they have been apprehended crossing the border illegally the first time, they do not typically prosecute these people. Normally, when people cross the border illegally, they will remain in the custody of homeland security. They will either be deported or they will -- if they asked for asylum, remain in detention centers and homeland security custody or be released on parole. But now it is best that what is going to happen is these cases, regardless of whether they are crossing the first or second time, they will be referred to the apartment of justice for print -- criminal prosecution.
>> Do we know how these prosecutions will take place?
>> One thing worth noting is that during these prosecutions, the people who were apprehended will receive defense attorneys. This is very unlike how things work in the immigration system when a person is trying to fight their immigration case. They are not giving attorneys and they must -- but for the criminal prosecutions, they will be getting a defense attorney from the U.S. government.
>> And the primal cost of pollution -- prosecution will be handled by the Justice Department, so that probably will change where these detainees are kept until the trial.
>> That's right. I have still tried to track down whether they will be kept in jail the entire time whether they will be going back and forth in detention centers and jails.
>> What is a penalty if they are found guilty?
>> If it is their first time, it is a federal misdemeanor which can be up to six months in prison or finds. If it is a repeat offense, it could be considered a felony and is punishable by up to to years in prison.
>> The Attorney General office that he also said children would be held separately from parents if they are arrested crossing the border.
>> It is not currently a policy but it is a practice, and we have been saying that for months. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents since October. Even babies being taken from their parents and being sent thousands of miles away to shelters and foster care. They say they do this for the safety of the children because smugglers have a history of pairing children with non-parents. They are destined they say they are doing this to deter people from coming to the yarn states to begin with. Department of Homeland security said last year that they would be increasing Lee desperately grizzlies separating families to determine them from coming in the first place. The case our product -- the parents might end up getting deported but the children might be granted the right to stay in the U.S. and they may never see their parents again.
>> The Attorney General said asylum-seekers will also be prosecuted if they cross the border illegally. Isn't that against international law?
>> It is very complicated. It is not illegal to prosecute people who enter illegally. In the 1951 UN treaty convention, they said as long as people present themselves to officials quickly after crossing the border illegally, it is okay for them to do so because they are fleeing for their lives. Also a federal law says that people have a right to ask for asylum, regardless of where they entered the country. Here is what the Attorney General said.
>> Person to enter our border, even if they want to claim asylum and do not come through the port of entry where we have processing, would be subject to prosecution. They may yet still be able to make a claim of asylum but they would be subject to the improper entry.
>> He says that they want asylum, they should come through the ports of entry. The reason we are seeing a lot of people jumping the fence is a part because increasingly people are being turned away from ports of entry because of the backlog. They are told that the ports of entry are at capacity and that they will have to come back another time.
>> Some immigration attorneys say this new policy will crowd federal prisons and slow down the already slow immigration system. Is is policy viable?
>> He said they sent 35 prosecutors to the pout -- Southwest border to deal with these cases and it was unclear what kind of increase that represents. He also said they would be moving 18 new immigration judges here to work full-time on moving these cases. That would be to process the asylum cases, not the criminal cases. It is unclear, given the backlog of cases we have in the system, the crowded prisons, it is unclear how much of a difference these resources will make.
>> I have been speaking with Kay PBS reporter Jane --. Jane, thank you.