WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Justice Department will begin prosecuting every person who illegally crosses into the United States along the Southwest border, a hard-line policy shift focusing in particular on migrants traveling with children.

In separate speeches – one in Scottsdale, Arizona, the other in San Diego – Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security will begin referring such cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. Federal prosecutors will “take on as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 percent,” he said.

“If you cross the border unlawfully … then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. … If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

DHS officials say they have seen a significant increase in illegal border crossings over the past year, including a rise in the number of families and unaccompanied children. In the past month, Border Patrol officers say they have encountered more than 50,000 immigrants trying to enter the United States. From April 2017 to April 2018, the number of apprehensions and “inadmissible” border crossings tripled, according to DHS.

Advocates for migrants have said most are fleeing violence in Central America and should be treated as asylum-seekers, not criminals. The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a federal lawsuit in California over past separations.

Sessions indicated that while he has “no doubt” people illegally crossing the border are fleeing danger or despair, “We cannot take everyone on this planet who is in a difficult situation.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.