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Sessions unveils 'zero tolerance' policy at southern border
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has enacted its previously announced "zero tolerance" policy for individuals who cross the southern border illegally, warning that children who are apprehended may be separated from their family.
"If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It's that simple," Sessions said during a press conference at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego.
"If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you," he continued. "If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you, as required by law."
Sessions announced the crackdown in a memo last month making prosecuting immigration violations a DOJ priority.
DOJ said the new policy is in response to a report from the Department of Homeland Security that showed a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossings from March 2017 to March 2018 and a 37 percent increase from February 2018 to March 2018 - the largest month-to-month increase since 2011.
The move comes as President Trump has repeatedly called in recent months for tougher immigration laws to keep immigrants from illegally crossing from Mexico into the U.S.
The president has often cited a caravan of Central American migrants who in recent weeks made their way up through Mexico to the border near San Diego, with some seeking asylum in the U.S.
Dozens of those migrants have since crossed the border to have their asylum claims processed.
The DOJ announced 11 individuals associated with the caravan were arrested for illegally crossing the border.
Sessions said last week that additional U.S. attorneys and federal judges will be sent to the southern border to deal with an increase in immigration cases.
On Monday, Sessions warned that any violation of immigration law would be prosecuted.
"If you're going to come to this country, come here legally. Don't come here illegally," Sessions said.
"The American people have a right to expect the laws their representatives voted for are going to be carried out," he added. "Failure to enforce our duly enacted laws would be an affront to the American people."
Immigration advocates have condemned the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general is examining whether the department is separating the children of asylum seekers from their parents while in immigration custody.