Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving'

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRosenstein warns of growing cyber threat from Russia, other foreign actors Key GOP lawmaker throws cold water on Rosenstein impeachment With new immigration policy, Trump administration gutting the right to asylum MORE on Monday defended the Trump administration’s practice of separating parents and children who cross the border illegally from comparisons to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, saying the Nazis "were keeping the Jews from leaving."

Sessions appeared on Fox News’s “The Ingraham Angle” amid a growing uproar over the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy to combat illegal immigration. As part of the policy, thousands of migrant children have been separated from their parents.

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Ingraham noted that some opponents have compared the practice to "concentration camps," while others have condemned it as a human rights violation.

“Well it’s a real exaggeration. Of course in Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country,” Sessions said.

“This is a serious matter,” he continued. “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.”

Asked for clarification on Sessions's comments, a Department of Justice spokeswoman told The Hill that "the Nazi comparisons that others are making" were just a "desperate attempt to distract from the fact that their policies led to the number of families illegally crossing the border jumping five-fold over the last four years.”

Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy earlier this year, saying the Justice Department would criminally prosecute all adults attempting to illegally cross the southern border into the U.S. As a result, families who crossed together would in some cases be separated, he said.

On Monday, he reiterated his argument that prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally can serve as a deterrent against illegal immigration.

"Hopefully people will get the message ... and not [come] across the border unlawfully," Sessions said.

Earlier Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenSomalis in US to keep protected status Hillicon Valley: Officials pressed on Russian interference at security forum | FCC accuses Sinclair of deception | Microsoft reveals Russia tried to hack three 2018 candidates | Trump backs Google in fight with EU | Comcast gives up on Fox bid Maxine Waters defenders gather to counter far-right protest that doesn’t happen: report MORE rebuked a reporter who asked if separating families was intended to "send a message."

"I find that offensive. Why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?" she responded.

Nielsen argued her department was merely enforcing the laws on the books, adding that "Congress alone" could put a stop to the policy.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE, meanwhile, has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the separation policy, despite his administration issuing the directive that led to the practice. On Monday, he doubled down on the policy, saying the U.S. “will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility.”

Democrats and a growing number of Republicans have called on the White House to end the practice.

Updated at 11:58 p.m.