A group of mothers, carrying their children, on Tuesday denounced the Trump administration’s plan to separate families who enter the United States illegally, walking out of a hearing in Washington where the homeland security secretary was speaking.
About two dozen mothers affiliated with women’s rights or immigrants’ rights groups walked out in “silent protest” during a Senate subcommittee hearing where Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was set to testify,Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, told NBC News.
“This feels like it’s not normal business as usual. It’s a policy that’s really so cruel and so harmful in its immediate impact that it felt like it called for an unusual response,” she said.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department was seeking to prosecute everyone who crossed into the country illegally and would separate children from families, instead of keeping them in detention together.
“If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said at a law enforcement conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
That policy would apply to families seeking asylum who do not surrender to immigration authorities at a port of entry, a move decried by the advocates. Children of adults who try to seek asylum at a designated port of entry will not be separated from their parents, administration officials said.
“Our government, the United States of America, is separating families who are coming to our borders seeking protection, and when I say that I mean literally ripping children out of their parents’ arms because they’ve come here asking for help,” Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said in remarks before the hearing.
By Daniella Silva for NBC NEWS
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