WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is wholly mispresenting the immigration detention policy he introduced that forced migrant children from their parents at the border.
“President Obama had child separation,” Trump said Tuesday. “I’m the one that stopped it.”
In fact, he stopped — or at least suspended — family separations that spiked as a result of his own “zero-tolerance” policy.
A look at his remarks to reporters before meeting Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi:
TRUMP on family separations: “President Obama had the law. We changed the law, and I think the press should accurately report it but of course they won’t.”
THE FACTS: This is false. Trump did not achieve any change in the law.
Operating under the same immigration laws as Barack Obama, Trump instituted a zero-tolerance policy aimed at detaining everyone who was caught crossing the border illegally and criminally prosecuting all the adults.
The policy meant adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings and their children were separated and sent into the care of the Health and Human Services Department. In the face of a public uproar, Trump suspended most separations in June. About 2,400 children were taken from parents at the height of the separations. During the Obama administration and before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy was introduced, migrant families caught illegally entering the U.S. were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation, unless they were known to have a criminal record.
Trump repeatedly but without specifics rails against a “Democrat” law that he wrongly claims to have changed. He appears to be referring to one that passed unanimously in Congress and was signed by Republican President George W. Bush. It was focused on freeing and otherwise helping children who come to the border without a parent or guardian and does not call for family separation.
TRUMP: “Just so you understand, President Obama separated the children.”
THE FACTS: Not in widespread fashion. Then and now, immigration officials may take a child from a parent in certain cases, such as serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns. The Obama administration also contended with a surge of minors who came to the border without parents and were held in short-term Border Patrol detention.
It did not seek to criminally prosecute all who crossed the border illegally, without regard to whether those who were caught had committed crimes other than illegal entry.
Family separations were the exception before Trump made them the rule.
TRUMP on family separations: “Once you don’t have it, that’s why you see many more people coming. They’re coming like it’s a picnic, because ‘let’s go to Disneyland.'”
THE FACTS: It’s not been proved that people are discouraged from coming to the U.S. when they know their children will be taken from them if they are caught.
Apprehensions did fall last summer, after the June suspension of separations, but they decline most summers because of the extreme heat in much of Mexico and the border region.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced on Tuesday that they apprehended about 53,000 parents and children at the southern border in March. The officials declined to answer a question about whether they believed family separation was an effective deterrent.
Merchant contributed to this report from Houston.