When US attorneys objected to orders to prosecute all undocumented immigrants in May 2018, then-attorney general Jeff Sessions made clear President Trump's intentions. "We need to take away children," he told the prosecutors, per the New York Times. A week later, then-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein complained about two cases in which US attorneys had opted not to move against adults who were with essentially infants, saying a child's age didn't matter, the Times reports, confirming previous reporting by the Guardian. It was all part of a push by top Justice Department officials to expand the president's child separation policy across the southern border following a secret 2017 pilot program in Texas, in which infants were separated from breastfeeding mothers, according to a draft report from DOJ inspector general Michael E. Horowitz.
The 86-page report, based on documents, emails, and more than 45 interviews, describes a "single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions" with the goal of deterring illegal immigration. Horowitz concluded officials knew the zero-tolerance policy "would result in children being separated from families." While Sessions declined to be interviewed, Rosenstein told investigators that he "never ordered anyone to prosecute a case." DOJ lawyer Gene Hamilton argued officials were acting on behalf of the president, who'd ordered as many prosecutions as possible. That order left Border Patrol overstretched and unable to keep up with felony cases, per the draft report. A prosecutor in Texas noted "sex offenders were released" as a result, per the Times. NBC News has confirmed the Times' reporting. A DOJ rep, however, claims the draft is full of errors. (Read more child separation stories.)