Sessions: Defends border policy; $2 million for Vegas | NevadaAppeal.com

Sessions: Defends border policy; $2 million for Vegas

Scott Sonner and John L. Mone
Associated Press

U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions talks about immigration at the NASRO School Safety Conference at the Peppermill Resort on Monday, June 25, 2018, in Reno, Nev. (Andy Barron /The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

RENO — The nation's top border enforcement official acknowledged Monday that authorities have abandoned, for now, the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy toward immigrant families after the president ordered an end to the separation of parents and children who cross the southern border.

The comments by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan came shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the administration's tactics in a speech in Nevada and asserted that many children were brought to the border by violent gang members.

Together, their remarks added to the nationwide confusion as mothers and fathers struggled to reunite families that were split up by the government and sometimes sent to different parts of the country.

McAleenan told reporters in Texas that he stopped sending cases of parents charged with illegally entering the country to prosecutors after President Donald Trump ordered an end to the separations last week.

The commissioner and Sessions insisted that the administration's policy remains in effect, but the cases cannot be prosecuted because parents cannot be separated from their children. McAleenan said he is working on a plan to resume prosecutions.

Speaking at a school-safety conference in Reno, Sessions cast the children as victims of a broken immigration system" and urged Congress to act.

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While hundreds of protesters rallied outside a hotel-casino, the attorney general said more than 80 percent of children crossing the border arrive alone, without parents or guardians, and are "often sent with a paid smuggler. We can only guess how many never make it to our border."

He claimed the MS-13 gang "is recruiting children who were sent here as unaccompanied minors, and some are brought to help replenish the gang. And they are terrorizing immigrant schools and communities from Los Angeles to Louisville to Long Island to Boston. They are able to do so because we do not have a secure southwest border."

He said five children had been found at the border carrying a combined 35 pounds of fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid drug blamed for an epidemic of overdose deaths nationwide.

Drug cartels, Sessions said, "take advantage of our generosity and … use children to smuggle their drugs into our country as well."

Sessions also announced a $2 million grant for Nevada from the Justice Department to help defray costs from the deadly shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

Sessions also underscored his department's continued efforts to make schools safer in his speech to the National Association of School Resource Officers.

In addition to $50 million in grants he announced earlier this month under the Stop School Violence Act, Sessions said another $25 million will be spent for better training and technology to improve emergency reporting of threats at schools.

The $2 million for Nevada is on top of $1 million he announced in October.

Sessions praised the "heroic work done by police that day" and their ongoing efforts in the weeks afterward.