The Trump administration is forcibly taking migrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention centers, to “deter” illegal immigration. On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump claimed it is all Democrats fault.
Amid growing outrage over his administration's policy of separating migrant families crossing the U.S. border, Trump pretended that it wasn't his problem, and suggested the blame should lie with Democrats.
“Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.,” he tweeted. “Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS.”
Like many things Trump tweets, however, the idea that Democrats are responsible for what is happening at the border is nonsense. As the Associated Press notes, the previous “catch and release” policy Trump and his administration cite as the reason for increased border crossings was put into place in 2008 by then-president George W. Bush, and was primarily created to combat the influx of children fleeing to the U.S. from Central American countries due to a surge of child-trafficking. Under Trump, however, that policy has changed. In the past, the Office of Refugee Resettlement traditionally placed unaccompanied minors—that is, children who cross the border without a parent—in government-run detention centers. If a parent and a child came together, they would be processed together. In recent months, however, the Trump administration has begun forcibly taking children from their parents—some as young as one year old—and warehousing them in facilities far away from their parents, as if they had crossed the border alone.
The new policy has seen about 700 children separated from their parents since October, and the problem is only getting worse. A HuffPost report shows that the O.R.R. is already struggling with the number of refugees in its custody, and has struggled to keep track of where many of them have been placed. The office has already lost about 1,500 children, a Health and Human Services official revealed last month:
Until recently, families that illegally crossed together generally faced deportation proceedings in civil court. But as of this month, the Trump administration is following a blanket policy of referring for prosecution all people who cross illegally. The change means that authorities send parents to jails run by the U.S. Marshals Services and their children wind up in the same agency as minors who came to the U.S. without their parents ? sometimes without their parents being able to locate them.
Must watch: Chris Hayes on 'despicable' new Trump policy: The federal government has placed thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in the homes of sponsors, but last year it couldn't account for nearly 1,500 of them.
Despite Trump’s attempts to shift blame for these bad headlines to Democrats, the policy is all his own. As chief of staff John Kelly told NPR in an interview three weeks ago, the plan to forcibly separate mothers from their children was explicitly designed as a “tough deterrent” to scare immigrants from trying to enter the U.S. “The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever,” he said flippantly. “But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.” He also implied that those who wished to come across the border were “overwhelmingly rural” people who would find assimilating into the U.S. difficult. “They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well. They don’t have skills.”
Under Obama, the Department of Homeland Security prioritized the deportation of people who had committed serious crimes, allowing most other undocumented immigrants to remain in the shadows. The DACA program allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for temporary legal status. Last year, Trump rescinded that program. According to CNN, arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions have gone up substantially.
Of course, it is impossible to separate the Trump administration's callous treatment of detained migrants from its hostile, arguably racist attitudes toward non-white people entering the country. On the day he announced his presidential campaign, Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and drug dealers. “They are not sending us their best,” he has said repeatedly. Earlier this year, he came under fire for calling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” whose immigrants he did not want. He has also engaged in a prolonged campaign to conflate violent criminals with immigration more broadly, frequently invoking the MS-13 gang to justify harsh deportation policies. From October 2011 to June 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials apprehended around 5,000 individuals they claimed had ties to gangs like MS-13. Of those 5,000, 159 of them were unaccompanied minors, and just 56 were confirmed to have ties to MS-13, acting chief Carla Provost testified in June. Yet Trump and his administration have bent over backwards to make any and all immigrants seem potentially hostile. During one recent roundtable, Trump accused migrant children crossing the border of being “not innocent.” Last week he made headlines when he referred to criminal immigrants as “animals.”
Inside the West Wing, in fact, the demonization of undocumented migrants and people seeking asylum at the border can be a laughing matter. In one particularly grim anecdote highlighted by The Washington Post, Trump reportedly joked with Jared Kushner and policy advisor Stephen Miller about hypothetical criminals with Hispanic names, which he gleefully described, along with their made-up crimes. Kushner and Miller, according to the Post, laughed.
In his tweet from Saturday morning, Trump appeared to be threatening to use his own cruel policy as leverage to get Democrats to side with him on a new immigration bill that would give him what he wants: tougher law enforcement on the border, a higher rate of deportation, and funding for his wall.
EMMA STEFANSKY/ vanityfair.com contributed reporting. A version of this article appears on MAY 26, 2018 2:30 PM edition with the headline: TRUMP BLAMES HIS OWN CRUEL CHILD-SEPARATION POLICY ON DEMOCRATS