Jeff Sessions was already under fire for his policy separating immigrant children from their parents when he was filmed joking about the children’s plight at a speech to a conservative foundation this week, igniting widespread protest.
Sessions was speaking to a crowd at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Los Angeles on Tuesday, where the New York Daily News noted he made a joke about children being taken away from their families.
“These same people live in gated communities, many of them, and are featured at events where you have to have an ID to even come in to hear ’em speak. They like a little security around themselves,” Sessions said about critics of the policy. “If you try to scale the fence they’d be even too happy to have you arrested and separated from your children.”
As the report noted, the crowd cheered at the last line. The speech came at the height of the controversy over the policy to take immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S. border. Though Trump reversed the policy amid massive backlash from both parties, the fate of children currently being held remains unclear. A judge has ruled that the youngest children must be returned to their parents within the next 15 days and all children reunited within a month, but some reports indicate that there is widespread confusion about where children are being held and what processes are in place to return them to their parents.
In his speech, Jeff Sessions also drew criticism for painting all critics of the policy as political extremists.
“The rhetoric we hear from the other side on the issue, as on many others, has become radicalized,” Sessions said (via the Los Angeles Times). “We hear views on television today that are on the lunatic fringe, frankly.”
The speech in Los Angeles drew a number of protesters, the Los Angeles Times reported. Some held signs calling Sessions a “kidnapper” while others chanted, “Kids belong at home! Not in cages!”
Video of Sessions’ speech went viral shortly after it hit the internet on Tuesday, drawing even more criticism among those who believe that the policy was meant as a way to unnecessarily punish those crossing the border.
Jeff Sessions is not the only Trump administration official to come under fire for the policy separating immigrant children from their parents. Others have faced public protests, with demonstrators tracking some down at their homes and in public to protest, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders being asked to leave a Virginia restaurant over the owner and staff’s disagreement with the policy.