The Trump administration is trying to criminalize all people crossing the southern border of the U.S., including families seeking asylum. According to NBC, this means separating parents from their children.
"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday during a law enforcement conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."
The word “smuggling” itself connotes criminal activity not comparable to what most people crossing with their children are attempting to do, which is flee violence—particularly for families escaping countries in Central America such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. "If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It's that simple," Sessions said.
Previously, families crossing the border to seek asylum would be met by border patrol and usually put under surveillance or given ankle monitors while awaiting their immigration hearing or interviews to assess their situation. Now, adults will be prosecuted and sent to jail awaiting federal court, while their children are transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. 700 children have been separated from their parents since October, according to NBC.
This announcement comes as the Trump administration has a fit over a slight surge in people crossing the border, even though the number of illegal border crossings has been declining steadily for years. Customs and Border Protection reported that the number of attempted border crossings in April was triple the amount in the same month last year. "We are dealing with a massive influx of illegal aliens across our Southwest border," Sessions said. "But we're not going to stand for this."
The policy will not apply to people who go directly to a U.S. port of entry to seek asylum. Sessions' announcement has quickly garnered backlash from people who view the policy as a gross violation of human rights. "This administration is set on tearing families apart, detaining immigrants without justification," Vedant Patel of the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.