Attorney General Jeff Sessions tells syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt why parents and children are separated when they are detained or arrested at the border.
"The law requires us to keep children in a different facility than we do for adults," the attorney general said. "And every time somebody, Hugh, gets prosecuted in America for a crime, American citizens, and they go to jail, they’re separated from their children."
"We don’t want to do this at all," he said. "If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve 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’ll still be prosecuted."
HH: I’m so pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions. General Sessions, welcome back.
JS: Good morning, Hugh.
HH: Let me begin. Is it absolutely necessary, General, to separate parents from children when they are detained or apprehended at the border?
JS: Yes. What’s happening is we are having more people coming bringing children with them entering between the ports of entry, between the ports of entry illegally, and they’re not, you cannot give them immunity. That’s an offense. We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted. And you can’t be giving immunity to people who bring children with them recklessly and improperly and illegally. They should never do that. And so those children are being well taken care of. Within 72 hours, they’re taken to the Health and Human Services to be sure they’re properly cared for. And those persons will have, the adults will be prosecuted like the law requires.
HH: I understand the prosecution part. But is it necessary to separate the children? Could they not be detained in facilities where at least mothers and infants could remain together?
JS: Well, most are not infants. Most are teenagers, although we do have a number of younger ones now, more than we’ve seen recently. And they are maintained in a very safe environment not by the law enforcement team at Homeland Security, but put with Health and Human Services. And they are kept close by, and if the person pleads guilty, they would be deported promptly, and they can take their children with them. And, but we do, the Homeland Security can only keep these children for 72 hours before they go to Health and Human Services.
HH: But General, what I’m pressing on, because I’m disturbed by this. I don’t think children should be separated from biological parents at any age, but especially if they’re infants and toddlers. I think it’s traumatic and terribly difficult on the child. Is it absolutely necessary to do so? Can’t we have facilities where parents remain united with kids?
JS: Well, we can, we’d be glad to work at that, and actually, to keep them as close as possible, and then they’re deported. But the law requires us to keep children in a different facility than we do for adults. And every time somebody, Hugh, gets prosecuted in America for a crime, American citizens, and they go to jail, they’re separated from their children. We don’t want to do this at all. If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve 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’ll still be prosecuted.
HH: I understand the message.
JS: I’m saying the only thing we can do about this, and certainly, we prefer to keep the children close by. And if we have a prompt hearing, as we do in many cases, they go back home with their children.
HH: You know, I understand the deterrent, and I understand there are 2.7 million children in America with a parent who’s incarcerated and are separated. But if it’s possible to build detention facilities, because these people have not been adjudicated guilty, they’re under suspicion, could we not provide…I spent 17 years in Orange County working on children and families issues trying to keep people who fell into homelessness together with their children because of the impact on children, Mr. Attorney General. Surely, you’ll agree that’s a terrible thing for a child, isn’t it?
JS: Well, it is, but this is not like somebody getting ten years in jail. I mean, these are often within days. Now if they get into a prolonged asylum process, the children are then turned over to some sort of family that is to take care of them while the adult may be in trial. But basically, the adults are frequently getting bail, too, and be able to be with their children. So it’s not, it’s certainly not our goal to separate children, but I do think it’s clear, it’s legitimate to warn people who come to the country unlawfully bringing children with them that they can’t expect that they’ll always be kept together.
HH: I had the deputy secretary…
JS: We don’t have the capacity now to do it.
HH: All right, I had the deputy secretary of HHS on last week, and he explained to me how the 10,000 children in the care of the United States are cared for at more than 100-plus facilities. Have you, Mr. Attorney General, visited any of those facilities?
JS: I have not visited them. Those are within the ambit of the Homeland Security and the Health and Human Services. But I believe for the most part they’re well taken care of. They turn, but I’ve got to tell you, we have some problems like we don’t often know who it is that comes and picks them up. And sometimes, they’re illegally in the country also. Sometimes, we take them to places from the border to Denver, to Chicago, to Islip, New York. We transport them to the place they want to go. Many of the children are taken in that fashion. It’s really an amazing thing. We need to get this border under control. We need better, we’re going to see some new legislation through Congress, and we want to send a message to the world that if you want to come to America, make your application and wait your turn.
HH: Good message. Senator Merkley attempted to visit one of these facilities in Brownsville, Texas. He was not admitted. Should he have been admitted, Mr. Attorney General?
JS: You know, I don’t know about that. There are protections and privacy protections for children and families, but I’m just not aware of that.
HH: All right, there’s an organization…
JS: It would be under HHS’ control.
HH: There’s an organization called Kids in Need of Defense, www.supportKIND.org, and they are, they’re liberal activists, but they have a point that these children deserve representation, because many of them are eligible for asylum or refugee status. You’re the chief law enforcement officer. Are you guaranteeing that these 10,000 children have adequate access to legal counsel?
JS: I’m guaranteeing that they’re treated properly and lawfully. But so much of this is not valid, these claims. You just can’t decide you want to come to America regardless, and when you’re not, don’t meet the standards for asylum demand entry to the United States, demand that you appoint lawyers, and demand that you go through prolonged trials. About 20% of the unaccompanied children, come by themselves, that are stopped, are denied immediately. And 80, then the rest go through an asylum process, which is fair and just and takes time. And they get a hearing. And the judges are well aware that they’re young, and they treat them with the proper care and concern. And of the 80% who actually go through asylum processes, only 20% are successful. Most are denied, and many of them have no legitimate claim at all. They were just coming here because they’d like to make more money or for some economic reason.
HH: Now I understand there’s a spectrum on this set of children that we’re talking about, these 10,000 kids who are in custody, the 100,000 who are not in the custody of HHS, so 110,000 children. But among those, I think we’ll agree there are some who are obviously coming as just simple economic journeyers. Others are refugees and asylum. But don’t they all need counsel to be able to navigate our system? I don’t know that it’s a Constitutional right, but it seems to be a moral right.
JS: No, I don’t think it’s a moral right, Hugh. No, no. If you come to the country, you should come through, first, through the port of entry and make a claim of asylum if you think you have a legitimate asylum claim. You shouldn’t try to get across the border at some desert site, some remote site unlawfully and expect not to be promptly deported. We’ve caught, over the years, millions of people, and they’ve been promptly deported. They don’t get trial in federal court.
HH: But I am worried that a legitimate asylum seeker, refugee, would get to the country any way that they could, and that once here, language or barriers of age or maturity would prevent them from making the necessary application. And in this, I’m not, you know, I’m a conservative. I’m for the border fence. I’m for a double long sided border fence, and have been since before President Trump was for it. But I do care about these kids, and I’m worried about abuse and neglect in large-scale facilities, you know, beetle, from Oliver Twist, if you remember the guy who ran that, and I’ve got Dickensian visions of these facilities. And no one I know has been there, including you. Aren’t you worried?
JS: Well, I believe we’ve got great people at Health and Human Services who are managing this. They stay under the Secretary of Homeland Security for only 72 hours maximum, and they’re then to be placed with Health and Human Services. And they, we have had some surges that have stressed HHS and DHS and how they handle the children, but for the most part, we’ve been able to transport them. Actually, what’s happening, when we say they’re in HHS custody, that means they’re in the custody of some, often, some family person who’s holding them as they’ve wanted to be held. They get, we take them as one witness at the committee said, to their destination city. And that may be Boston. It may be Chicago. We take them from the border to Boston at our expense so they can stay with somebody pending these claims of asylum. It’s really almost unbelievable how this works. So the wall, as you suggest, would really be a deterrent for that. We want people to file their application, not come unlawfully. And if they think their children are entitled to have, be here, then they get to come, then they should apply properly for asylum.
HH: Mr. Attorney General, are you a grandfather?
JS: Yes, I am.
HH: Can you imagine your grandchildren separated from your children for a period of 72 hours or even longer in a dormitory with up to, the deputy secretary told me, 1,000 other children and the impact on them of that?
JS: Hugh, you can’t, the United States can’t be a total guarantor that every parent who comes to the country unlawfully with a child is guaranteed that they won’t be, is guaranteed that they will be able to have their hand on that child the entire time. That’s just not the way it works.