WASHINGTON, D.C. — During a recent congressional hearing, Rep. Ro Khanna asked Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz if the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy ultimately harmed national security.
“That’s certainly what the marshals expressed concern about, precisely that issue,” Horowitz replied.
The Inspector General’s office issued a report last month examining the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies. Horowitz addressed lawmakers about the findings during a virtual hearing Thursday of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April 2018 that the U.S. Department of Justice had established a “zero tolerance policy” for illegal entry violations. Under the new policy, the United States would criminally prosecute all illegal entries, including misdemeanor offenses. Children would be separated from their parents during this process.
Horowitz told legislators this was a significant change. Misdemeanor cases — meaning illegal entry violations that lacked aggravating factors, like drug possession — were traditionally handled through the administrative deportation process.
“Did they consult the U.S. Marshals Service when they took this position?” asked Khanna, D-Fremont.
The inspector general told Khanna they did not discuss the changes with the agency prior to the public announcement. The congressman said it was alarming the U.S. Marshals Service was not consulted or asked for input.
“Wouldn’t you want to know what kind of burden this is going to put on your Marshals Service?” Khanna asked.
Horowitz said the changes greatly impacted the U.S. Marshals Service. The agency only has a limited number of jail cells, he said, and they had to find space for hundreds of new defendants in each district. He explained it eventually led the agency to develop a $200-plus million shortfall.
Horowitz added the additional responsibilities took away time from other priorities, like executing arrest warrants. Marshals feared this hurt national security.
The Inspector General’s Office ultimately concluded the Office of the Attorney General failed to effectively prepare for or manage the effects of the zero tolerance policy, according to the 93-page report.
“The increase in immigration prosecutions under the zero tolerance policy created operational, resource, and management challenges for the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the courts,” it states. “DOJ officials were aware of many of these challenges prior to issuing the zero tolerance policy, but they did not attempt to address them until after the policy was issued.”
It further states the department failed to plan for the impact the policy would have on children.
The Trump administration’s immigration policies sparked global controversy in 2018.
Migrant advocates argued families who illegally entered the United States deserved compassion, as many were asylum seekers looking to escape violence in their homelands. Some physicians and mental health experts said separating children from their parents was a form of psychological torture.
Many leaders in Silicon Valley, including Khanna, spoke out against the policy.
“Families are being separated because the Trump administration has chosen to criminalize every migrant crossing the border and rip their children from their arms. This cruel policy must end,” he wrote on Twitter in 2018.
Sessions, however, argued the United States could not take in every individual facing difficult circumstances. He defended the policy as a necessary step for enhancing border security.
“If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” he previously said. “It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
More than 3,000 children were separated from their parents at the southern border as the result of policy changes.
Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.