At a distance, Donald Trump’s practice of separating migrant children from their families at the border appeared to run its course over the summer. In response to international outrage, the Republican president signed an executive order in June curtailing his “zero-tolerance” policy, and soon after, federal courts instructed the administration to reunite the families Trump had kept apart.
The efforts to undo what the White House did haven’t always gone especially well, but it’s also worth acknowledging that Trump doesn’t appear eager to leave this disaster in the past.
“The Democrats [sic] policy of Child Seperation [sic] on the Border during the Obama Administration was far worse than the way we handle it now,” the Republican wrote on Twitter yesterday. “Remember the 2014 picture of children in cages - the Obama years. However, if you don’t separate, FAR more people will come. Smugglers use the kids!”
Democratic President Barack Obama did not have a separation policy. The Trump administration didn’t, explicitly, either, but that was the effect of his zero-tolerance policy, which meant that anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted, even those with few or no previous offences.
The policy meant adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings and their children were separated. In most cases, if the charge took longer than 72 hours to process, which is the longest time that children can be held by Customs and Border Protection, children were sent into the care of the Health and Human Services Department. Zero tolerance remains in effect, but Trump signed an executive order June 20 that stopped separations.
Trump also misrepresents 2014 photos of children in holding cells. They did not involve family separation. The photos, taken by The Associated Press during the Obama administration, showed children who came to the border without their parents and were being housed at a Customs and Border Protection center in Nogales, Arizona.
It’s that other part of Trump’s tweet, though, that’s cause for additional concern.
“[I]f you don’t separate,” the Republican wrote, “FAR more people will come.” Trump’s argument seems to be that separating children, including babies, from their families creates a deterrent for other prospective migrants.
We already know the evidence suggests Trump’s family-separation policy was ineffective as a deterrent, but just as important is the fact that he’s making the argument at all. The president’s tweet was effectively a defense of a policy Trump claims he ended months ago.
All of which raises the question of whether the Republican intends to begin separating families anew. Indeed, this comes on the heels of reporting in October that the Trump administration was “weighing” another, modified family-separation policy.
Watch this space.