In Scottsdale, Ariz. on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was greeted by a protester with a bullhorn who denounced Sessions as "evil" as he outlined the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" policy for parents who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border with children—one that will forcibly separate families and subject parents to prosecution.
"Are you going to be separating families? Is that why you're here?" the man demanded to know as Sessions' staffers attempted to remove him from the event. "Why are you doing this? Do you have a heart? Do you have a soul? ...You are an evil, evil, evil man!"
A protester reaches Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a press conference held at the San Diego/Tijuana border pic.twitter.com/ojKVHNKxdG— Inés García (@ines_acento) May 7, 2018
Under the new policy, the Trump administration will strive for a "100 percent" prosecution rate for people who attempt to cross the border. Undocumented immigrants will be sent to detention centers to await trials in federal court, while children will be placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
"Today we're here to send a message to the world that we are not going to let the country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border," Sessions said, in a reference to the caravan of asylum seekers who arrived from Central America last week after fleeing violence and political unrest in their home countries—several of which have suffered destabilization due to U.S. policies.
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"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions continued. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."
There has been a recent rise in border crossings by asylum seekers from Central America, but according to some critics of the Trump administration's new approach, Sessions has vastly oversold the notion that undocumented immigrants are pouring into the southern United States.
"Yes, we have this spike in Central Americans. But the overall undocumented flow is at historic lows," Seth Stodder, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, told the New York Times. "We are not facing a 'massive influx' of undocumented migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, the opposite is true—undocumented migrant crossings are at historic lows, with border apprehensions around 20 percent of what they were around the time of the 9/11 attacks."
Immigrant rights advocates called the proposal "inhumane," and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spoke out against the implications the policy carries for children's emotional and physical well-being.
Tearing apart families that are seeking safety is inhumane and compounds their trauma. The Trump administration’s shameful cruelty will be a dark stain on our nation’s history → https://t.co/DPN71FeDkZ— National Immigration Law Center (@NILC_org) May 7, 2018
"So many of these parents are fleeing for their lives. So many of these children know no other adult than the parent who brought them here. They can be as young as infants and toddlers," said Colleen Kraft, president of AAP. "...This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress—known as toxic stress—can carry lifelong consequences for children. The new policy is the latest example of harmful actions by the Department of Homeland Security against immigrant families, hindering their right to seek asylum in our country and denying parents the right to remain with their children. We can and must do better for these families."