Obama separated families under extraordinary circumstances. Trump made it standard procedure.
President Donald Trump reportedly wants to take an even more hardline approach at the southern border — but wants everyone to blame his predecessor for all of its unsavory aspects.
As reports swirl that Trump is considering reinstating and strengthening policies that would again result in migrant and asylum-seeking families being separated, the president, unprompted, told reporters during an Oval Office event Tuesday that “Obama separated the children, by the way. Just so you understand — President Obama separated the children.”
“Those cages that were shown, I think they were very inappropriate, they were built by President Obama’s administration, not by Trump,” he added. “President Obama had child separation. Take a look — the press knows it, you know it, we all know it. I’m the one that stopped it.”
But in the very next breath, Trump pivoted to defending the practice of separating children from their parents and detaining them, even while indicating he has no plans to resume doing it.
“Now I’ll tell you something — once you don’t have it, that’s why you see many more people coming,” he said. “They’re coming like it’s a picnic. Because ‘let’s go to Disneyland.’ President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it.”
As reporters are being ushered out of Oval Office, Trump abruptly says, "Obama separated the children, by the way. Just so you understand — President Obama separated the children… I'm the one who stopped it… I was the one who changed it." pic.twitter.com/llLH0CinuZ
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 9, 2019
Shortly after the event ended, Trump tweeted out an old Fox News clip about children being held in overfull facilities during the height of the border crisis in 2014, when more than 47,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended trying to cross the border during just during the first eight months of the year.
Check this out – TRUTH! pic.twitter.com/2HNVeEpKDu
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 9, 2019
That video does show migrant children in detention facilities — images that some mistakenly blamed on Trump as outrage over family separations increased last year. But what it does not show are children who would’ve been separated from their parents under as many circumstances as was the case under the Trump’s administration’s ill-fated “zero tolerance” policy.
So perhaps unsurprisingly given Trump’s long history of lying about Obama, his attempt to shift blame for family separation is misleading at best.
The difference between family separations during the Obama and Trump presidencies, briefly explained
It is true that migrant and asylum-seeking families were separated while Obama was president, but only in extraordinary circumstances. The Los Angeles Times’s Scott Martelle explains:
During the Obama administration, family separations were rare and predicated upon two conditions: whether border officials felt the parents or guardians posed a threat to the children, or whether the adults, under U.S. immigration law, had to be detained based on prior criminal convictions.
While Obama was undoubtedly tough on immigration — his administration still holds the record for most deportations — border officials used discretion during his presidency to determine which illegal crossing cases to prosecute. On the other hand, in April 2018, the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions instituted a “zero tolerance” policy that called for every illegal entry case to be prosecuted. This resulted in children being separated from parents — even when the parents had done nothing more than try to cross the border.
Vox’s Dara Lind explained the difference between the Obama and Trump-era policies after zero tolerance was implemented last year:
It’s not that no family was ever separated at the border under the Obama administration. But former Obama administration officials specify that families were separated only in particular circumstances — for instance, if a father was carrying drugs — that went above and beyond a typical case of illegal entry.
We don’t know how often that happened, but we know it was not a widespread or standard practice.
Under the Trump administration, though, it became increasingly common. A test of “zero tolerance” along one sector of the border in summer 2017 led to an unknown number of family separations. Seven hundred families were separated between October 2017 and April 2018.
Trump’s zero-tolerance policy resulted in heart-rendering images of kids being kept in cage-like facilities, and parents being reunited with young children who didn’t seem to recognize them after long separations. By June of last year — after more than 2,300 families had been separated — Trump signed an executive order walking it back.
Since then, however, Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with his federal government’s inability to stop migrants and asylum seekers from reaching and crossing the US’s southern border. Trump told reporters last Friday that he intends to take his administration’s immigration policy in a “tougher direction,” and two days later forced Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign.
On the heels of Nielsen’s resignation, CNN reported that Trump not only wanted to reinstitute the “zero tolerance” policy, but wanted to go further:
According to multiple sources, the President wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. The President wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the US. He thinks the separations work to deter migrants from coming.
Sources told CNN that Nielsen tried to explain they could not bring the policy back because of court challenges, and White House staffers tried to explain it would be an unmitigated public relations disaster.
”He just wants to separate families,” said a senior administration official.
While Trump made clear again on Tuesday that he has no plans to reinstate a “zero tolerance” policy, the reporting that he’s interested in doing so has created a public relations problem.
In response, Trump — as he is wont to do — tried to blame it on Obama, even when he really should be looking in the mirror.