Democratic Attorneys General in 21 states are calling on the Trump Administration to end the “zero tolerance” policy that has resulted in the separation of families at the U.S. border.
In an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the state officials said the policy is “inhumane” and “contrary to American values.”
“Put simply, the deliberate separation of children and their parents who seek lawful asylum in America is wrong,” the letter reads. “This practice is contrary to American values and must be stopped. We demand that you immediately reverse these harmful policies in the best interests of the children and families affected.”
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas led the letter in the wake of reports that some 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since early April. He was joined by AGs from states including Hawaii, California, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. It is not yet clear if they plan to present a formal legal challenge against the policy.
The attorneys general say that because it is their duty to enforce laws on human and drug trafficking and gang violence, arguing that policies like this make it difficult for them to work with victims as they do their jobs. They also suggest that by separating kids from their parents the Trump Administration could be violating international, federal and state laws that say a child is better off with their parents unless “a rigorous judicial inquiry” finds that the parent is unfit or has committed a crime.
“Policies that separate a child from his or her parent absent that level of inquiry, would not only be illegal under most state laws, but also may be contrary to the policy views of state legislatures and their constituents across this country,” the letter reads.
The attorneys general have joined the chorus of lawmakers, civil and immigrant rights groups, and others who are urging the Administration to end the policy. Trump officials, so far, have shown no interest in backing away from the “zero tolerance” policy, under which any person caught illegally crossing the border will be prosecuted. When families cross the border that has meant that parents are taken to federal custody while the children are handed over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
At the White House on Monday, DHS Secretary Nielsen defended the policy and said “loopholes” in the current system were driving people to attempt to come to the U.S.
“Parents who entered illegally are, by definition, criminals,” she said. “Illegal entry is a crime as determined by Congress. By entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk.”
Secretary Nielsen and other members of the Trump Administration have suggested that Congress should step in to address the issue, but lawmakers have said the White House can and should easily stop family separations on its own.