Senior US Justice officials pushed for family separations, watchdog says By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Republican Senate candidate speaks in Mobile

By Mimi Dwyer (Reuters) – Top leaders of the US Department of Justice, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, knew that a 2018 policy requiring the prosecution of all migrants who crossed the border illegally would result in lead to family separations, according to a report from the government watchdog. found on Thursday. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) spent more than two years investigating the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The OIG report found that officials aggressively followed the policy, despite concerns from prosecutors and judges involved in a 2017 pilot program that separated 280 families in the El Paso, Texas area. The policy directed government attorneys to prosecute all illegal border crossings, including people coming as families, leading to the parents being separated from their children. The Justice Department adopted the border-wide criminal prosecution policy in April 2018, despite evidence that the government was having difficulty locating family members who were separated during the pilot program, according to the report. Gene Hamilton, a DOJ attorney, said Sessions “thought it was the right thing to do” despite the effect on families, according to the report. The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment. US prosecutors expected to carry out the prosecutions were “shocked” when Border Patrol agents began sending family cases to them for processing and had not been informed by headquarters of the change, the OIG found. US President Donald Trump has made crackdown on immigration a centerpiece of his administration, which ends on January 20. When it was released, the family separations sparked international outrage and officials revoked the policy within months of its announcement. Between May 5 and June 20, 2018, more than 3,000 children, including some under the age of 5, were taken into government custody when a parent was referred for prosecution, the OIG said. Currently, lawyers are still working to reunite families and have not located the parents of more than 600 children, according to a court file in an ongoing court case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the policy. The OIG conducted 45 interviews for the report, although former Attorney General Sessions declined to participate. When the OIG asked former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he knew the policy would lead to the separation of families, he said: “I think the answer is yes.” In a statement issued Thursday, Rosenstein said “zero tolerance” was a “failed policy that should never have been proposed or implemented … I wish we all had done better.”

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