Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein and other former top Justice Department officials were instrumental in the infamous Trump administration practice of separating young undocumented immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, an inspector general’s draft report concludes.
A two-year investigation by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz reportedly deems Sessions, President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, and Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general, “a driving force” of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, according to a draft of the inspector general’s report obtained by The New York Times and NBC News Tuesday.
“We need to take away children,” Sessions reportedly told a group of federal prosecutors during a May 2018 conference call shortly after the policy was announced, the Times reported.
The prosecutors wanted the separation policy to exclude very young children. But Rosenstein reportedly chided them for rejecting some immigration prosecutions based on children’s youth, and “instructed that, per the A.G.’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child,” according to the draft report.
Trump administration officials defended the policy at the time and said it wasn’t intended to separate families. But the officials “were aware that full implementation of the zero-tolerance policy” would lead to undocumented immigrants with children being prosecuted, “and that the prosecution of these family-unit adults would result in children being separated from families,” the report says, the Times wrote.
Horowitz reportedly concluded that the DOJ had “a single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions,” and that the zero-tolerance policy aimed to deter undocumented immigrants, including those fleeing violence in Central America, from crossing the border.
“It is the hope that this separation will act as a deterrent to parents bringing their children into the harsh circumstances that are present when trying to enter the United States illegally,” a Border Patrol official wrote in 2017, according to the draft.
Trump eventually abandoned the child-separation policy in the face of global outrage.
A DOJ spokesperson told the Times that the draft report “contains numerous factual errors and inaccuracies.”
“While DOJ is responsible for the prosecutions of defendants, it had no role in tracking or providing custodial care to the children of defendants,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Finally, both the timing and misleading content of this leak raise troubling questions about the motivations of those responsible for it.”
Trump fired Sessions two years ago for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to probe the Russian involvement, resigned in 2019.