CBSN

Jeff Sessions argues it's necessary to separate children from parents when detained at border

In an interview Tuesday, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointblank: "Is it absolutely necessary, General, to separate parents from children when they are detained or apprehended at the border?"

"Yes," Sessions said. "What's happening is we are having more people coming bringing children with them entering between the ports of entry, between the ports of entry illegally, and they're not, you cannot give them immunity. That's an offense. We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted."

He argued that most of the detained children are teenagers and therefore more capable of taking care of themselves than infants or toddlers. While Sessions claims that Health and Human Services (HHS) takes care of these separated youths, he remained firm on prosecuting their parents who choose to bring them to the country "recklessly and improperly and illegally."

When families enter the country illegally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can only keep children for 72 hours. After this, DHS continues to oversee prosecution of the parents, while their children then come under the management of HHS.

Essentially, federal law requires the children and adults to be kept in separate facilities, which is further complicated by the parents' prosecution.

"If people don't want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them," Sessions said. "We've got to get this message out. You're not given immunity. You have to, you will be prosecuted if you bring, if you come illegally. And if you bring children, you'll still be prosecuted."

While Sessions said it's not necessarily the Trump administration's goal to separate children and families, he stated that "it's legitimate to warn people" that coming to the United States illegally may result in split families.

Hewitt then asked Sessions, as a grandfather, to imagine what it would be like for his own grandchildren to be separated from their parents for a period of 72 hours or more and the impact that may have.

"Hugh, you can't, the United States can't be a total guarantor that every parent who comes to the country unlawfully with a child is guaranteed that they won't be, is guaranteed that they will be able to have their hand on that child the entire time. That's just not the way it works," he responded.

Session said he wishes the United States could afford to keep parents and children together after illegal immigrants are detained, but remained adamant that unlawful border crossers must be federally prosecuted.

Hewitt asked the attorney general if these separated children should be granted legal counsel in order to navigate the immigration system. He made the case that while it is not a Constitutional right, as it is for U.S. citizens, that perhaps it's a "moral right."

Sessions disagreed.

"No, I don't think it's a moral right, Hugh. No, no," Sessions said. "If you come to the country, you should come through, first, through the port of entry and make a claim of asylum if you think you have a legitimate asylum claim. You shouldn't try to get across the border at some desert site, some remote site unlawfully and expect not to be promptly deported. We've caught, over the years, millions of people, and they've been promptly deported. They don't get trial in federal court."

  • Blair Guild On Twitter»

    Blair Guild is a politics reporter and video producer for CBS News Digital.