Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions knew his “zero tolerance” policy on illegal entry along the Southwest border in 2018 would separate children from their parents, a watchdog office reported on Thursday. Despite warnings that the government couldn’t care for the children, he pushed forward with the policy. As a result, more than 3,000 children were separated from their families.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a critical review which found the department “failed to effectively prepare for and manage the policy’s implementation.”
Trump administration officials “significantly underestimated [the policy’s] complexities and demonstrated a deficient understanding of the legal requirements related to the care and custody of separated children.”
The review concludes that the Justice Department’s “single-minded focus on increasing immigration prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact of family unit prosecutions and child separations.”
The administration had told federal prosecutors in 2017 to prioritize immigration prosecutions. Throughout the year, the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security discussed possible policy changes, including criminally prosecuting “family unit adults” and separating them from their children, the report said.
At the same time, the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office had begun prosecuting adults in certain instances, even if it resulted in separation from their children. It was referred to as the El Paso Initiative. Prosecutors and judges noted concerns about the whereabouts of the children of approximately 280 broken families.
Following the perceived success of the El Paso Initiative, Sessions’ policy went into effect on April 6, 2018.
“I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border,” Sessions said one month later in San Diego. “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s…