A speech by Jeff Sessions in New Orleans sparked chaos on Monday as crowds protesting the Trump administration policy that separates families at the border blocked a street, leading to several arrests and one person sustaining injuries after being struck by a truck, according to reporters on the scene.
Sessions was speaking at a meeting of the National Sheriffs’ Association to accept a lifetime achievement award. In his speech, he called for stronger mandatory minimum sentences and a border wall. And while he said that “we do not want to separate parents from their children,” he defended the administration’s zero-tolerance policy and reiterated that people crossing the border with children are criminals and, often, gang members:
After the policies of the last eight years, we had hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors. These are people, children, young people that came without adults and their parents. Coming through our borders. Which has led to a resurgence of the violent MS-13 gang terrorizing high schools and even middle schools in Maryland and Long Island.
While Sessions spoke, protesters gathered to protest the zero-tolerance policy as cruel and inhumane. One demonstrator was reportedly struck by a vehicle, although whether the driver hit the protester intentionally is still unclear.
According to a tweet by BuzzFeed News reporter John Stanton, the protester, Susan Morrison, was not seriously injured. Morrison told Stanton that the driver was “cursing at protesters” before he hit her.
New Orleans police investigated and issued the following statement:
Meanwhile, protesters continued to come into conflict with police, and at least five were reportedly arrested.
Also at the event, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana told the assembled sheriffs that a House immigration bill would include language to “properly compensate” local sheriffs for holding immigrants.
And Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said it was a “luxury” to “pretend … that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are in fact a family,” portraying the Trump administration policy as an ugly but necessary form of upholding the law:
Let’s be honest. There are some who would like us to look the other way when dealing with families at the border and not enforce the law passed by congress. Including unfortunately some members of congress, past administrations may have done so, but we will not.
The statements follow a weekend of calls, from members of both parties, for the administration to halt its practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Trump has asserted, baselessly, that the Democrats in Congress are to blame for the practice. Nielsen has also said, in a remarkable rejection of the truth, that the administration does not have a policy of separating families.