Attorney General Jeff Sessions joked about family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of the "zero tolerance" policy he authorized last month. Despite widespread criticism of the policy, Sessions attacked the "elite" and members of a "lunatic fringe" he claims want to compromise national security.
“The rhetoric we hear from the other side on this issue – as on many others – has become radicalized,” Sessions told the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “We hear views on television today that are on the lunatic fringe, frankly. And what is perhaps more galling is the hypocrisy.
He continued: "These same people live in gated communities, many of them, and are featured at events where you have to have an ID to even come in and hear them speak. They like a little security around themselves."
He closed his remarks with the following: “And if you try to scale the fence, believe me, they’d be even too happy to have you arrested and separated from your children."
Sessions' comments received laughter and applause.
AG Jeff Sessions: "The rhetoric we hear from the other side on [immigration]—as on so many others—has become radica… https://t.co/9m9GOLht1R— MSNBC (@MSNBC) 1530054050.0
Sessions appeared to bask in the attention, using it as an opportunity to call out the Trump administration's naysayers and pledge that the administration would continue to deliver on President Donald Trump's campaign promises.
"They want borders in their lives but not yours and not the American people’s lives," Sessions said. "This is why the American people are sick of the lip service and the hypocrisy. They are sick of the politicians who abandon their promises as soon as the mainstream media criticizes them."
Sessions' joke about separating children garnered criticism almost immediately. Perhaps the most prominent critic was Chelsea Clinton, who stressed the AG's comments displayed "indecency and incivility."
You want to know what indecency and incivility sound like? People laughing and applauding at the “joke” about forci… https://t.co/lqWrboHeUW— Chelsea Clinton (@Chelsea Clinton) 1530049191.0
Others, including Zerlina Maxwell, the Senior Director of Progressive Programming for SiriusXM, also weighed in:
Jeff Sessions just made a joke about baby jails in case you wanted to know how that civility debate is going.— Zerlina Maxwell (@Zerlina Maxwell) 1530046496.0
Sarah Huckabee Sanders does not need Secret Service protection. The children and babies being held in internment ca… https://t.co/ZKZceE1A2O— Ryan Knight 🏳️🌈🗽 (@Ryan Knight 🏳️🌈🗽) 1530060217.0
Here is AG @jeffsessions making a joke about separating children from their families to laughter and applause. The… https://t.co/irOdWjikwu— Bishop Talbert Swan (@Bishop Talbert Swan) 1530099129.0
Sessions' speech was greeted by protesters. About 25 people demonstrating against the Trump administration's immigration policy were arrested after they allegedly blocked traffic; Los Angeles Police Officer Christopher Im called it an act of "civil disobedience."
Clergy of various denominations took part in the demonstration, chanting, "Not in cages, kids belong in homes!"
Clergy of various denominations sing and chant "Not in cages, kids belong in homes" outside Los Angeles courthouse… https://t.co/B05YjvvWWH— ABC News (@ABC News) 1530041509.0
Clergy members arrested during protest of U.S. Atty. General Jeff Sessions' visit to L.A. https://t.co/PLbZ2dXIMR https://t.co/LDzLN6UlVd— Maya Lau 🦅 (@Maya Lau 🦅) 1530052466.0
The shirt I got arrested in today has the whole Sermon on the Mount on the back. So when they take away our Bibles… https://t.co/v4UC02uXfM— Shane Claiborne (@Shane Claiborne) 1530064119.0
Jeff Sessions' visit to Los Angeles sparked protests. Those blocking the streets were religious leaders from Jewish… https://t.co/pL468zcaS2— Allen Marshall (@Allen Marshall) 1530076884.0
A line of clergy are sitting arm to arm blocking Spring Street in front of the Hall of Justice ahead of AG Jeff Ses… https://t.co/vom6E18O7H— Kris Ankarlo (@Kris Ankarlo) 1530033462.0
Last week, President Donald Trump, under pressure from members of his own party, signed an executive order halting his administration’s “zero tolerance” family separations policy.
“It’s about keeping families together while ensuring we have a powerful border,” Trump said of the order. He added: “I didn’t like the sight of families being separated.”
The president’s daughter, Ivanka, later thanked him profusely on Twitter, a move which opened her up to a volley of criticism from many who pointed out that she was congratulating her father for “taking critical action” on a policy he could have halted with a simple phone call, not to mention the fact that it was a crisis entirely of his own making.
Some prominent conservatives have made headlines for defending––and making light of––the "zero tolerance" policy.
Chuck Holton, a reporter for NRA-TV, the cable television platform for the gun rights lobbying groups, claimed that child detention centers are “too nice” during a segment about child immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The policy of separating children from their families “was essentially the same” as under former President Barack Obama, Holton said, adding: “I’ve visited those facilities. Those facilities, if anything, are too nice.”
It is unclear how Holton gained access since access to these facilities has been extremely limited. Nevertheless, he insisted that migrant children are being kept in “very safe, secure environment with hot showers, probably for the first time in their lives, with three hot meals a day, with games to play and education and health screenings.”
Holton’s comments echo claims made by Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host of The Ingraham Angle, who last week described the child detention centers housing immigrant children as “essentially summer camps.”
“As more illegal immigrants are rushing the border, more kids are being separated from their parents,” Ingraham said. “And temporarily housed at what are, essentially, summer camps.”
To underscore her point, Ingraham cited a news report from The San Diego Union-Tribune that compared the camps to “boarding schools.”