Sessions says border policy not Nazi-like: ‘They were keeping Jews from leaving’

US attorney general rejects comparison of separation of migrant children from parents to Holocaust concentration camps

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, December 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, December 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the country’s border with Mexico, claiming that comparisons made with Nazi concentration camps were “exaggerated” since during the Holocaust, “they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country.”

“Well it’s a real exaggeration,” Sessions told Fox News when asked about the comparison with concentration camps during World War II. “Of course in Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country.

“This is a serious matter,” he added. “We need to think it through, be rational and thoughtful about it. We want to allow asylum for people who qualify for it but people who want economic migration for their personal financial benefit and what they think is their family’s benefit is not a basis for a claim of asylum.”

Calls are mounting in the US for the administration to end the separation of families ahead of a visit from US President Donald Trump to Capitol Hill to discuss legislation. The meeting with House Republicans, scheduled for late Tuesday afternoon, comes at a time when lawmakers in both parties are up in arms over the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings.

Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the US Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the country’s Department of Health and Human Services. Under the previous administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

In this photo taken on January 4, 2017 US Border Patrol agents take Central American immigrants into custody near McAllen, Texas. (AFP PHOTO / GETTY / JOHN MOORE)

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May.

US nonprofit news organization ProPublica on Monday published what it said was recordings of ten children desperately calling for their parents at a facility near the US-Mexico border last week.

A US Border Patrol official is heard during the eight-minute clip joking about the crying kids, saying, “Well, we have an orchestra here, what’s missing is a conductor.”

Democrats have seized on the family separation issue, swarming detention centers in Texas to highlight the policy. They are demanding that the administration act to keep migrant families together. Republicans are increasingly joining Democrats in that call.

Michigan Republican Representative Fred Upton on Monday called for an immediate end to the “ugly and inhumane practice,” adding, “It’s never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process.” Kansas GOP Senator Pat Roberts said he is “against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration.”

“The time is now for the White House to end the cruel, tragic separations of families,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, said in a statement.

The Trump administration insists the family separations are required under the law.

At a White House briefing Monday, Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared, “Congress alone can fix it.” That line has been echoed by others in the administration, including Trump himself, who has falsely blamed a law passed by Democrats for the “zero tolerance” approach to prosecutions of families crossing the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at his office in Jerusalem on June 13, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Last week, Nielsen visited Israel, toured its border barrier with Egypt and received a briefing on Israeli border technology to take away lessons for the US-Mexico border.

“Border security is national security,” she told a security conference in Jerusalem. “Our Israeli partners know that better than anyone, and I was fortunate today to see the incredible work they are doing to keep their territory safe.”

Trump has reportedly cited Israel’s security barrier on the Egyptian border, and its success in blocking illegal immigration, as inspiration for his calls to build a wall on the Mexico border.

Two immigration bills under consideration in the House could address the separations, but the outlook for passage is dim. Conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderates is inadequate.

Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio and a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he’s skeptical that even a full-throated endorsement from Trump will be enough to get the compromise bill through the House.

The compromise bill shifts away from the nation’s longtime preference for family immigration to a new system that prioritizes entry based on merits and skills. It beefs up border security, clamps down on illegal entries and reinforces other immigration laws.

To address the rise of families being separated at the border, the measure proposes keeping children in detention with their parents, undoing two-decade-old rules that limit the time minors can be held in custody.

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