President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, was unable to describe his predecessor’s policy of separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the fact that this controversial approach to handling asylum-seekers has dominated the news in recent months.
At Barr’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Barr if he agreed with the Department of Justice’s “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in the separation of nearly 2,800 immigrant children from their parents.
Barr claimed that because he is not a current member of the department, he “doesn’t know all the details.”
“Well, I’m not sure I know all the details because one of the disadvantages I have is I’m not in the department and don’t really have the same backing I did in terms of information that I had last time,” Barr said. “But my understanding is that DHS makes the decision as to who they are going to apprehend and hold.”
That Barr was unaware of the details surrounding the administration’s zero tolerance at the border is perplexing, considering it monopolized national headlines for months over the summer. Moreover, the relevant details are not incredibly complex: President Donald Trump, emboldened by his then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, separated asylum-seeking families who crossed the border between ports of entry.
In his explanation, Barr butchered a key component of U.S. immigration law.
“Now, you can claim asylum, but that doesn’t mean you can waltz into the country freely,” Barr said.
Contrary to Barr’s claim, any immigrant can apply for asylum “whether or not at a designated port of arrival,” according to U.S. law. This is primarily the reason why the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy was so troubling. Some organizations like Amnesty International have gone as far as to describe zero tolerance as violation of international human rights.
Because the U.S. immigration courts are under the purview of the Department of Justice, it is imperative that any U.S. attorney general is familiar with the intricacies of immigration law.
In his opening remarks Tuesday, Barr, echoing President Trump, stated that the only way to protect the country’s legal system and prevent individuals from “crashing in through the back doors” is by “secur[ing] our nation’s borders.”