Immigration expert Steve Cortes corrected host Fredricka Whitfield on the reality of family separation at the U.S. southern border during CNN’s Newsroom Sunday.
The U.S. Border Patrol does not separate immigrant families who claim asylum if they appear at a legal point of entry to the U.S., Cortes, the former head of President Donald Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council, said. Until recently, only the families that tried to come into the country outside a point of entry — making them illegal immigrants — were separated.
Trump issued an executive order Wednesday that directed the Border Patrol to detain illegal immigrant families together and to begin reuniting children with their detained parents. (RELATED: Trump Signs Executive Action To Stop Family Separation)
Whitfield asked Cortes how he thought Trump’s plan to reunite “immigrant families” would work out.
“Look, it will be a difficult process, but here’s the thing. The best way for — when you say immigrant families, by the way, it’s important to say illegal immigrant families,” Cortes responded, pointing out the omission. “That’s a very, very important adjective to add in there. Immigrant families have never been separated.”
“Illegal immigrant families have been separated, and I would say separated for a very good reason,” Cotez continued. “Why? Because their parents, unfortunately, or guardians … decided to commit a crime with children in tow. Much like an American committing a crime with children in tow, you get separated from you children. And that’s a terrible consequence for the kids.”
Whitfield defended her characterization of immigrants crossing the border illegally, pointing out that many were crossing the border seeking asylum.
“If you show up to a port of entry in the United States with your children and request asylum lawfully, you are not separated from your family,” Cortes shot back, referring to the difference between applying for affirmative and defensive asylum. (RELATED: Fact Check: Do Asylum-Seekers Have To Illegally Enter The U.S.?)
Affirmative asylum applies to immigrants entering the U.S. at a port of entry, or immigrants who apply within a year of entering the U.S., whether or not their entry was legal. Immigrants entering the country illegally can apply for defensive asylum while they are being processed for deportation.
“It’s not [legal]. You have to come to a check point, raise your hand and say, ‘I’m here for asylum,’” Cortes said. “You can’t sneak across the border and then say, once you’re caught, ‘Oh, I meant to apply for asylum. That’s just not correct.”
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