By Chris Stone
Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned during a visit to the San Diego border area Monday that people who sneak into the country will be federally prosecuted, and if they bring children with them, those children will be taken away.
“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you — it’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, we will prosecute you,” he said.
“If you are smuggling a child, we will prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you, as required by law,” he added as Mexican music played in the background.
But Sessions received a warning of his own from regular border activist William Johnson.
After feigning a need to use the restroom at Border Field State Park, a backpack-wearing Johnson emerged from the beach.
Border Patrol agents let him into the park restricted mainly to the media.
About 90 seconds after Sessions began his remarks, Johnson’s voice boomed through a bullhorn.
“Why are you here?” he yelled. “Are you separating families? Is that why you’re here? You’re not welcome here. … Do you have a soul? You are evil!”
Also: “What are you doing here? We don’t want you in our state. Why are you doing this? Do you have a heart? … Why do you work for this administration?”
In mid-December, Johnson accused the Sheriff’s Department of a slow response to his being assaulted at a Dec. 9 border rally in Otay Mesa.
Above the international media assembly Monday flew a large kite with a sign that said, in Spanish, “Parks not Walls.”
The visit by Sessions and Thomas D. Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was the latest in a series of appearances by Trump administration officials to tout a “zero-tolerance” stance against illegal immigration. Sessions’ vow to step up prosecutions follows an earlier administration move to increase the number of immigration judges and prosecutors along the border.
Other than a brief pause, Sessions largely ignored Johnson’s remarks and continued speaking.
Sessions noted that the Department of Justice will send 35 prosecutors and 18 immigration judges to the Southwest, a roughly 50 percent increase in the number of judges hearing asylum cases. He also said about 20 percent of asylum-seekers in recent years have been approved to stay in the United States
Sessions said Americans for decades have been “pleading” for tighter immigration enforcement.
“The American people are right and just and decent to ask for this. They are right to want a safe, secure border and a government that knows who is here and who isn’t,” he said. “Donald Trump ran for office on that idea. I believe that is a big reason why he won. He is on fire about this. This entire government knows it.”
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The country “cannot take everyone on Earth who is in a difficult situation,” Sessions said, before referring to a Gallup poll that indicated 150 million people around the world want to immigrate to the United States.
“It’s obvious that we cannot take everyone who wants to come here without also hurting the interests of the citizens we are sworn to serve and protect. We have to have limits. And Congress has already set them,” Sessions said. “And if you want to change our laws, then pass a bill in Congress. Persuade your fellow citizens to your point of view.”
Homan countered criticism that suggested new rules were being made.
“We are not making any laws up,” Homan said. “These are laws enacted by Congress. I see a lot of stories today about how we have created a new policy about separating families.
“I want to be clear. DHS does not have a blanket policy of separating families as a deterrent.”
He said his own agency has always separated groups, especially “when we can’t establish that [the adult] is a parent and that the child is being trafficked.”
He cited “numerous cases” of children abused by alien smuggling groups.
Adult-childen groups also are separated when someone is prosecuted, he said.
“Every law enforcement agency separates parents from a child when they are arrested for a crime,” Homan said, insisting: “There is no new policy. That has always been the policy.”
Referring to Johnson shouting “shame on you” at Sessions, Homan said: “The only shame in this media event is people who want to call out American patriots, men who stand all around me in these uniforms, that strap a gun to their hip every day, leave the safety and security of their homes to defend this nation and defend the community.”
Such agents are doing their sworn oath, he said.
“If people like to heckle and don’t like what we do, then talk to your congressman and change the law,” Homan said.
“As far as the evilness, the evilness is the transnational criminal organizations that get bankrolled by the continuous enticement to enter this country illegally by sanctuary cities and people who want to commit fraud in the asylum process,” he said.
“People are dying trying to enter this country. There is a right way to enter this country; there’s a wrong way to enter this country.”
The Democratic National Committee denounced Sessions’ comments and the Trump administration’s immigration policy as an “affront to our values as a nation.”
“This administration is set on tearing families apart, detaining immigrants without justification, leaving U.S.-born children without their parents and stoking fear in immigrant communities, all while siphoning off taxpayer dollars to fund a divisive and ineffective wall,” according to a DNC statement.
“Attorney General Sessions continues to abuse his authority to expedite removals and deprive detained immigrants of legal counseling and due process, which further highlights this administration’s hostility towards immigrant communities.”
Protestor interrupts Attorney General Jeff Sessions press conference in San Diego at US-Mexico border as he announces 100% illegal border crossings will be prosecuted by DOJ. @KPBSnews pic.twitter.com/pU15JIzlS2
— Jean Guerrero (@jeanguerre) May 7, 2018
Sessions’ trip marked the fourth time a high-ranking Trump official has visited the California-Mexico border region in recent months. Trump himself was in Otay Mesa in March to survey prototypes of the border wall, which was a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.
On April 18, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited Calexico in Imperial County, where a replacement border barrier has been under construction since President Barack Obama’s administration. Vice President Mike Pence visited Calexico last Monday.
While in the Imperial Valley, Pence spoke to Homeland Security and Border Patrol employees at the El Centro Border Patrol Station to discuss plans for the proposed wall and to call for tougher controls on immigration.
He advocated ending migration based on family reunification and claimed that a highly publicized immigrant caravan of Central American asylum-seekers was “undermining the laws of this country and the sovereignty of the United States.”
Sessions’ call for tougher immigration enforcement came a week after the caravan, with fewer than 200 migrants, arrived at the U.S. border in Tijuana following a roughly monthlong trek through Mexico. The members of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras caravan — which came under scrutiny when Trump began tweeting about it on Easter Sunday — have since begun the process of seeking asylum in the United States.
The attorney general previously spoke out about the caravan last week when federal prosecutors alleged that 11 of the immigrants had tried to cross the border illegally under the cover of darkness.
“When respect for the rule of law diminishes, so too does our ability to protect our great nation, its borders and its citizens,” Sessions said last week. “The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized.
“U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman and his team should be commended for quickly filing illegal entry charges for individuals apprehended along the southwestern border. We will continue to work with our partners in each U.S. Attorney’s office to aggressively pursue prosecutions of criminal illegal entry.”
Monday evening, the executive director of the Phoenix-based Latino voting group Mi Familia Vota, Ben Monterroso, called the reported decision to separate children from parents “deranged and 100 percent wrong.”
“The damage to any child’s physical and emotional development, let alone the parental suffering, is inhumane,” he said in a statement.
“Our country should not be associated with the immoral practices being practiced by Attorney General Sessions. The silence from the GOP is disdainful: all children should be protected from harm and kept under their parents’ care.
He said Trump’s “extremist anti-immigrant ideology” could embolden other anti-immigrant officials in our government and desensitize the country to harmful practices of the administration.
“Our moral compass has been destroyed by this president,” Monterroso said.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly said border security led the protester away.
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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