In a May 2018 episode listed in the draft report, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a group of prosecutors on a conference call, “We need to take the children away,” the Times reported.
Days later, then-Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a second appeal to prosecutors telling prosecutors that migrant children should be separated regardless of their age, adding that lawyers should have followed up two cases involving children not much older than Seemed to be infants.
Following this appeal, retiring US attorney in West Texas, John Bash, wrote to his staff that Rosenstein had “instructed that, according to AG guidelines, we should NOT categorically oppose the prosecution of adults in family units for the age of a child”
The revelations in the Horowitz ’86-page draft report provide new insights into the role senior Justice Department officials played in implementing the Trump administration’s May 2018-late June 2018 zero-tolerance immigration policy. Policy has called for criminals to prosecute adults who cross the border, resulting in thousands of children being separated from their parents and taken into state custody.
“The single-minded focus of the department on increasing law enforcement came at the expense of careful and effective policy implementation, particularly with regard to the prosecution of adults in family units and the resulting child segregation,” said Horowitz’s draft report.
Meetings refused to be interviewed for the report, the Times said. However, Rosenstein defended his actions in an interview with investigators and his former office gave a long response to the report.
“If a United States attorney has ever tried a defendant who he did not personally believe warrant prosecution, they have violated their oath of office,” Rosenstein said in a statement. “I have never ordered anyone to pursue a case.”
According to the Times, the draft report also describes how border guards missed out on crime cases after being overwhelmed by all the illegal entry cases they were detained and prosecuted under the zero tolerance policy.
“Over an extended period of time, more children were separated from immigration and referred to HHS for care than is generally discussed in the public debate. How many more children were separated is unknown,” said Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluation and inspections.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Inspector General were unable to determine how many more children were separated because “identifying separated children posed significant challenges”.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.