Current and former state and federal prosecutors are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his zero tolerance policy targeting families who have illegally entered the United States’ southern border.
Democratic state attorneys general urged Sessions in a letter Tuesday to “immediately” end the policy and the practice of separating children from their parents, warning it could violate the law and Constitution.
“The policy is not only inhumane, but it also raises serious concerns regarding the violation of children’s rights, constitutional principles of due process and equal protection and the efforts of state law enforcement officials to stop crime,” the letter, signed by 21 attorneys general, said. “Because of these concerns, we demand that the Department of Justice immediately cease these draconian practices.”
The letter, led by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, includes signatures from the state attorneys general in California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state intended to file a multi-agency lawsuit within the next few weeks to “end this callous and deliberate attack on immigrant communities.” He said at least 70 immigrant children are staying in federal shelters in New York, with that number expected to rise.
Dozens of former U.S. attorneys, appointed under Democratic and Republican administrations, also pressed Sessions in a separate letter Tuesday to end the practice, calling it a “radical departure” from previous DOJ policy.
The twin letters are the latest in an onslaught of criticism for the Trump administration. In April, Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy, which has resulted in around 2,000 children being separated from their parents within a six-week period.
The former U.S. attorneys who signed onto Tuesday’s letter would have been the prosecutors directed to handle the cases at the border. Preet Bharara and Chuck Rosenberg are among the over 70 names appearing on the letter. Another signatory is Jenny Durkan, former U.S. attorney in the western district of Washington, and now mayor of Seattle. Another—Conner Eldridge, who was the top prosecutor in the western district of Arkansas—is the Democratic nominee for a Senate seat held by Republican Sen. John Boozman.
Durkan, Eldridge, and Bharara were Obama appointees. Rosenberg was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“As former U.S. Attorneys, we know that none of these consequences — nor the policy itself — is required by law. Rather, its implementation and its execution are taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders,” the letter from the former U.S. attorneys said.
“It is time for you to announce that this policy was ill-conceived and that its consequences and cost are too drastic, too inhumane, and flatly inconsistent with the mission and values of the United States Department of Justice. It is time for you to end it.”
Sessions has defended the policy, which he said is designed to deter future immigrants from illegally crossing the U.S. border. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also doubled down at a press conference Monday and said the government is just enforcing the law against those illegally entering the U.S.
Hunton Andrews Kurth partner Tim Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia who helped organize the letter, said Tuesday it was unusual for former U.S. attorneys to speak out on administration policies, but noted there was bipartisan consensus on the issue.
“It was important to us that we gather a bipartisan group of former DOJ U.S. attorneys, because this (policy) has never been done in Republican or Democratic administrations in the past,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Hunton Andrews Kurth.