NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Protesters chanted "arrest Jeff Sessions" and "free the children" outside the city's Morial Convention Center Monday morning as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said the U.S. will not turn into a migrant camp.
The timing of Sessions' visit to New Orleans was sure to attract protesters as criticism mounts over the separation of children from parents who illegally entered the U.S. at the southern border.
"We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully either, placing those children at-risk," Sessions told members of the National Sheriff's Association.
Sessions was not the only member of the Trump Administration to speak to the crowd. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the children in U.S. custody are being well treated in the government facilities.
"We have to do our job, we will not apologize for doing our job."
The White House said weeks ago there would be zero tolerance for those sneaking into the country and sidestepping legal avenues for migrating to the U.S.
The administration also stressed that it is simply enforcing existing federal law.
"We need to be clear, illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get of jail out of free cards," said Nielsen.
Nielsen said it's nothing new to have people accused of breaking the law be separated from their families in America.
"It is important to note that every day in communities across the country if you commit a crime the police will take you to jail regardless of whether you have a family," Nielsen stated.
Tulane immigration law Prof. Laila Hlass takes issue with claims it is the law to separate the families.
"There is no law that says you either have to separate the families or release them into society. The immigration agency has the ability to decide the fate of these families together, they have the ability to decide to detain families together in immigrant family detention systems, or to release the families and for the immigration agency then to make the decision whether or not the families can stay or go," Hlass said.
President Trump is scheduled to meet with House republicans on Tuesday to discuss bills which aim to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
FOX 8 News asked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise about the immigration battle and legislation he thinks has a shot of getting approved.
"In the bill we're working on, one of the things we do is end this whole idea that families are separated, if somebody comes here illegally with their family, if they're held at the border and the determination is they have to go back home, the whole family should go back home, they shouldn't separate the parents and the kids," said Scalise.
Scalise stressed that he consider securing the border a priority.
"There's incredible need for a wall with technology that can work together to make sure we can secure our border, address the DACA problem in a way that actually restores rule of law," said Scalise.
And as it relates to separating families, Scalise faulted some court decisions.
"The reason that we have this issue of family separations is because of a lot of flawed court decisions and so I disagree with the court decisions that say if somebody comes here illegally with their kids if they're held and the determination is that they have to be sent back they only send back the parents and they keep the kids here. I think that's a psychotic rule and why would you want to separate the family and the parents go home and now the kids want to be with their parents, they're here in America abandoned, in essence. What kind of policy is that? I want to reverse that, President Trump wants to reverse it, as well," said Scalise.
"We don't have to rip those families apart," Hlass said.
Still Professor Hlass agrees that the nation's immigration laws need to be tweaked.
"There definitely needs to be new laws to make sure we have a functioning system that people aren't waiting years, and years in backlog, but that doesn't mean that are loopholes," she said.
As Sessions was inside the convention center a handful of protesters clashed with law enforcement officers near the facility's entrance, and some ended up in handcuffs.