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'Ready, fire, aim': On immigration, Trump admin gripped by confusion

When it comes to Trump's "zero tolerance" policy at the US/Mexico border, the administration has struggled to keep its story straight.
Image: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new \"zero tolerance\" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas
Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new \"zero tolerance\" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the...

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told CBS News the other day that part of the problem with Donald Trump's agenda along the U.S./Mexico border is the lack of preparation and forethought. The Republican described the roll out of the president's "zero tolerance" policy as one that was implemented in a "ready, fire, aim" sort of way.

No matter what one thinks of the administration's approach, it's hard to disagree with Corker's assessment. The White House swore up and down that Trump's family-separation policy couldn't be addressed through an executive order, right up until Trump addressed his policy through a carelessly-thrown-together executive order -- all while leaving many in the Department of Homeland Security in the dark, and while ignoring the advice of White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Two days later, the Wall Street Journal  highlighted the "changing, competing and contradictory explanations of the administration's immigration policy." Different agencies within the administration were under the impression that the president's executive order meant different things and the "slapdash nature of the effort" only intensified the chaos.

At one point late last week, the Washington Post  reported that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection was freezing criminal referrals for migrant parents who cross the border illegally with children, only to have the Justice Department say largely the opposite soon after.

All of which led to yesterday. The New York Times  reported overnight:

The nation's top border security official said Monday that his agency has temporarily stopped handing over migrant adults who cross the Mexican border with children for prosecution, undercutting claims by other Trump administration officials that "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration is still in place.

Around the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Nevada, where he said federal prosecutions would continue, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House isn't changing its policy.

So, what exactly is the administration's policy?

The Times' report valiantly tried to bring the confusing image into focus: "Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not have enough detention space for the surge of families crossing the border, many families will be quickly released, with a promise to return for a court hearing. [CPB Commissioner Kevin McAleenan] said that the agency would continue to refer single adults for prosecution for illegally crossing the border, and that border agents would also separate children from adults if the child is in danger or if the adult has a criminal record."

In other words, Team Trump still embraces "zero tolerance," but it can't fully implement "zero tolerance" the way the White House intended, so the administration will only show "zero tolerance" to some who cross the border.

Or as a separate New York Times  piece put it the other day, "the reality of a vastly complicated bureaucratic system is colliding head-on with Mr. Trump's shoot-from-the-hip use of executive power."

If that dynamic sounds familiar, it's probably because it describes the rest of Trump's presidency.