(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said the U.S. should change its “hodgepodge” of immigration laws to a new policy toward those who try to enter illegally: “I’m sorry, you can’t come in.”
Trump spoke Tuesday during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House amid an international uproar over his administration’s separation of children from parents caught illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico.
Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen plan to meet with Central American leaders later this week to confer on the administration’s immigration enforcement efforts, said an aide to the vice president.
The U.S. initiated the meeting with the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the official said.
The Border Patrol apprehended about 70,000 families and nearly 48,000 unaccompanied children from the three countries after they crossed the Mexican border into the U.S. in the 2017 federal fiscal year. By comparison, the patrol apprehended about 3,500 families and 12,000 unaccompanied children from Mexico.
In the White House meeting, Trump elaborated on a proposal he first made on Sunday, when he said in a tweet that immigrants apprehended after illegally crossing the border shouldn’t be allowed to see immigration judges before they’re deported.
“It’s so simple: It’s called, I’m sorry, you can’t come in,” Trump said Tuesday. “You don’t have to see a judge where the judge is going to take three years.”
Trump reversed course last week on his controversial policy dividing families caught entering illegally and issued an order to halt the practice. The president nonetheless has promised to press forward with tougher border enforcement and to maintain a “zero tolerance” policy requiring prosecution of everyone apprehended illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico, a misdemeanor.
Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, added to confusion about the policy on Monday by announcing that his agency has stopped referring adults who illegally cross the border with children for criminal prosecution. He told reporters at a detention center in McAllen, Texas, that the move was in response to Trump’s executive order last week ending family separations, according to the Associated Press.
McAleenan said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings remains in effect but he was unable to refer parents for prosecution without separating them from their children. He said the agency is working on a plan to resume criminal referrals.
Earlier Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told an audience in Reno, Nevada, that the Justice Department would maintain Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. To do otherwise, Sessions said, “would encourage more adults to bring more children illegally on a dangerous journey that puts these children at great risk.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said McAleenan’s halt to referrals is “a temporary solution” that “isn’t going to last.” She called on Congress to “fix” the immigration system.
“We’re not changing the policy. We’re simply out of resources,” she added.
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