SAN DIEGO (CN) – Standing steps away from the U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said all cases of suspected unlawful border crossings are being referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
“Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said at a press conference on a mesa at Border Field State Park overlooking the current double fencing in place along the border in San Diego.
“People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border. We need legality and integrity in the system.”
Sessions’ Monday announcement comes a week after a caravan of hundreds of asylum-seekers descended on Tijuana, Mexico, to present themselves at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego.
Initially told by U.S. Customs and Border Protection the port had “reached capacity,” the mostly women and children from Central American countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were eventually allowed to enter the U.S. last week to start their asylum applications.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California heard arguments in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union over what it claims is the federal government’s practice of separating asylum-seeking parents and kids as a means to “deter” other families from coming here for the same purpose.
Sessions said Monday he believed the asylum process “needs some changes” in light of the caravan which entered San Diego last week and the fact that only 20 percent of asylum claims are granted.
He implored families seeking asylum to present themselves at ports of entry rather than crossing illegally under dangerous, and frequently deadly, circumstances.
“We don’t want to separate families but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally and attempt to enter the country improperly,” Sessions said.
“We urge them not to come themselves illegally, and even worse, to bring their children with them or some other children. Mainly children are being brought by people who aren’t their parents.”
Sessions said the laser focus on prosecuting unlawful entry cases will “inevitably” cause children to be separated from their parents, since unaccompanied minors are cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“I have no doubt that many of those crossing our border illegally are leaving difficult situations. But we cannot take everyone on earth who is in a difficult situation,” Sessions said after calling U.S. immigration laws the “most generous in the world” for accepting 1.1 million permanent residents a year.
Last week, the Justice Department hired 35 additional assistant U.S. attorneys to specifically prosecute immigration cases along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Justice Department also assigned 18 supervisory immigration judges to hear cases in-person and via video teleconferencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In April, Sessions issued a “zero-tolerance” policy for undocumented immigration offenses following a growing number of apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border between February and March this year.
Sessions’ press conference was interrupted by San Diego activist William Johnson who worked with protesters to fly a yellow flag on Mexico’s side of the border which stated parques no muros – “parks not walls.” Johnson used a bullhorn to tell Sessions to “get out of my state you evil, evil man.”
Also on Monday, the Trump administration’s full-court press on the U.S.-Mexico border gained a new player: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s offer of resources will result in U.S. Park Police officers doing 21-day rotations in two border-area parks.
Traditionally tasked with patrolling National Park Service land in Washington, New York and San Francisco, the U.S. Park Police officers will deploy to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas.
The rotations begin May 13.