A bipartisan group of 75 former U.S. attorneys slammed the Trump administration policy of separating children from parents who take them illegally across the border, arguing in a letter posted online Monday that it traumatizes children and robs current U.S. attorneys of the agency they need to prioritize more important prosecutions.
“Traumatizing children by separating them from their parents as a deterrent for adult conduct is, in our view, sufficient reason to halt your policy,” the former U.S. attorneys wrote in their letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “But as former U.S. Attorneys, we know that the collateral consequences of this ill-advised approach ultimately render us less safe as a nation. … It is a simple matter of fact that the time a Department attorney spends prosecuting misdemeanor illegal entry cases, may be time he or she does not spend investigating more significant crimes.”
The letter noted that the group had served under presidents of both parties.
Outcry and bipartisan criticism have exploded in recent days over the Trump administration’s policy of prosecuting all illegal border-crossers, a step that has prompted the separation of parents, who are taken to adult criminal detention centers, and their children, who cannot accompany them and are therefore taken to child-only centers.
At child detention centers toured over the weekend by reporters and lawmakers, children were held in cages made of chain-link fencing, laying on green mats with reflective blankets. The stark imagery amplified the outcry from opponents of the separation policy.
The Trump administration, for its part, has argued that the practice of separating families is the fault of Democrats unwilling to accede to the broader demands of the president, including construction of a border wall and an end to certain immigration programs. The White House has also argued that its hands are tied by existing law when it comes to separating families.
Neither argument has stood up to scrutiny — there is no law requiring families be separated at the border, only a policy established by the Trump administration that could just as easily be rescinded. The former U.S. attorneys, too, noted that “the law does not require the systematic separation of families under these circumstances” and that the separations are “taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders.”
“It is time for you to announce that this policy was ill-conceived and that its consequences and cost are too drastic, too inhumane, and flatly inconsistent with the mission and values of the United States Department of Justice,” the former U.S. attorneys wrote. “It is time for you to end it. Effective leadership and the integrity of the world’s leading law enforcement agency require nothing less.”