A bipartisan group of over 70 former U.S. attorneys signed a letter calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Trump administration practice of separating families trying to cross the southwest border illegally, arguing that the policy is cruel, expensive, and jeopardizing of national security.
In the letter, the attorneys argued that the Justice Department’s new zero-tolerance policy toward illegal immigration is a “radical departure” from previous immigration policies.
“Until now, every administration has chosen a path that has balanced the need for effective enforcement and deterrence with humanity and compassion,” they wrote, referring to previous efforts to address the complexities involved when families try to enter the U.S.
“In the name of deterring illegal immigration, your Zero Tolerance policy abandons that balance,” the letter added.
By citing relevant immigration laws and recalling the policies of past administrations of both parties, the attorneys slammed Sessions’ previous arguments that separating families is required by law.
They emphasized that attorneys have the power to use their discretion when deciding how to enforce misdemeanor immigration laws, calling on Sessions to use his power to end the practice of separating families.
“The law does not require the systematic separation of families under these circumstances,” they wrote, arguing that, as a group, they’ve prosecuted tens of thousands of cases involving much more serious crimes in which separating families was always treated with “extraordinary caution,” rather than as an automatic response that disregards individual circumstances.
“Until now, no Republican or Democratic administration, nor any prior Attorney General, has endangered children in order to deter illegal entry,” they added.
The group of attorneys also argued that directing DoJ attorneys to prosecute every illegal entry case wastes valuable resources that would be better spent on addressing more serious threats to national security, like terrorism, human trafficking, and corruption.
They also cited the rising costs associated with the U.S. federal prison system as another problem exacerbated by the zero-tolerance policy, stressing that prosecuting every illegal entry case places undue strain on federal courts tasked with hearing each case, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, which has to provide housing for the thousands of children rendered parentless as a result of the policy.
“As former U.S. Attorneys, we know that none of these consequences – nor the policy itself – is required by law,” the group of attorneys wrote to Sessions. “Rather, its implementation and its execution are taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders.”
They called on Sessions to end the policy and announce that it was “ill-conceived” and “too drastic, too inhumane” to be enforced, and that it was “flatly inconsistent with the mission and values” of the Justice Department.
“It is time for you to end it. Effective leadership and the integrity of the world’s leading law enforcement agency require nothing less,” they concluded.
The letter, signed by dozens of former U.S. attorneys in districts throughout the country, comes as the Trump administration’s border policy is hit with fierce blowback from all directions.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has blamed the practice on laws put in place by Democrats, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen held a press briefing on Monday to address questions and defend the policy.
Lawmakers are still in the process of negotiating a bill that would end the practice of separating families as part of wider immigration reform legislation.