Sessions defends separating children and undocumented parents at border

PHOTO: Attorney General Jeff Sessions looks on during a news conference near the border with Tijuana, Mexico, May 7, 2018, in San Diego.PlayGregory Bull/AP
WATCH Brazilian mother reunites with teen son 8 months after separated at U.S. border

In an interview with conservative radio host, Attorney General Jeff Sessions staunchly defended the Trump administration's policy leading to children being separated from their undocumented parents at the border.

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"We believe every person that enters the country illegally like that should be prosecuted. And you can’t be giving immunity to people who bring children with them recklessly and improperly and illegally," Sessions told interviewer Hugh Hewitt.

He went on to say that the children are being "well taken care of."

"If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out. You’re not given immunity," Sessions said.

Sessions said that the administration can "work at" having facilities where parents remain united with their children.

There are already three ICE family residential centers, which, as of Monday, were holding 2,607 people. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on Sessions’ comments.

He also said that U.S. citizens are treated the same.

"Every time somebody, Hugh, gets prosecuted in America for a crime, American citizens, and they go to jail, they’re separated from their children," he continued.

The radio host told the attorney general that he was "disturbed" by what's happening and that he doesn't think children should be separated from their parents.

Sessions responded it is often just a matter of days before adults get bail and are able to be with their children.

While the sentencing for illegal crossing often results in a short jail sentence, parents have been separated from their children by federal immigration authorities for much longer, according to lawsuits and advocate groups.

Immigration detention is not criminal in nature, but can often result in lengthy detention.

"It’s not, it’s certainly not our goal to separate children, but I do think it’s clear, it’s legitimate to warn people who come to the country unlawfully bringing children with them that they can’t expect that they’ll always be kept together," Sessions reiterated.

Sessions said he has not visited the facilities because they are under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

When asked whether parents have a moral right to stay with their children, Sessions bluntly said that's not the case.

"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," he said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, recently tried to enter a facility in Texas that was holding children and was denied entry.

Sessions, a former senator from Alabama said that he and Merkley "get along well" and that he would talk to him about making it possible for Merkley to get into a facility.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose Office of Refugee Resettlement is in charge of underage illegal immigrants once they cross into the country, also defended the new strategy Wednesday, saying parents simply should not try to enter the United States illegally.

“The best advice I have is actually present yourself at a legal border crossing and make your case. Cross illegally and get arrested and your children will be given to us. That's the simple fact, I'm afraid,” Azar said while testifying before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Wednesday morning.

This is not the first time Sessions has made hardline comments related to the department's policies.

In early May, at an event in San Diego, he talked about the "zero tolerance" guidance the Department of Justice has put in place.

"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law," he said.

The DOJ has also put more resources on the Southwest border, including more immigration judges and more prosecutors.

"These actions are necessary. And they are made even more necessary by the massive increases in illegal crossings in recent months. This February saw 55 percent more border apprehensions than last February," he continued.

On the same day at an event in Arizona, Sessions repeated the administrations' determination to separate children from their parents and using it as a deterrent for people to cross the border illegally.

“If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over the border,” Sessions said.

ABC News' Ali Rogin and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.