The Trump administration can’t keep its story straight about why Border Patrol has started separating children as young as infants from their families and detaining them. Justifications from the officials involved in the new enforcement run the gamut from biblical to finger-pointing at Democrats.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new “zero tolerance” policy in April, which requires border patrol immediately arrest all adults caught trying to enter the country illegally and place them in detention in federal jail. Since then, thousands of kids — an increase of more than 20 percent — have been separated from their parents and put into separate detention facilities under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some sleep in cages with mattresses and thermal blankets on the floor, while others stay in temporary “tent cities” in the 100-plus-degree desert. Even hysterical toddlers and babies go into what the administration calls “tender age” shelters.
As more information trickles out about the sudden change in enforcement, journalists and the public have demanded answers. But Trump administration officials, including Sessions and Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have given reasons that don’t always match up. Some have even denied the policy exists at all.
We’re just enforcing existing law
Nielsen said in a press conference Monday that the administration is just doing what the Obama and Bush administrations did: enforcing existing laws.
“The Obama administration, the Bush administration, all separated families at the — They absolutely did,” she said.
It’s true that the previous administrations did break up families, but that was rare. Then, agencies had much greater discretion in deciding which border-crossers to pursue on criminal charges. But Sessions' new “zero tolerance” policy requires adults to be arrested and put into detention in federal jail, where kids can’t be held. The increased enforcement has resulted in a much higher rate of family separations.
Under the Obama administration, the government did set up the tent cities in response to thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. But most of the children had crossed without families, and defenders of the policy cited the genuine crisis at the time as a reason for the conditions.
The Democrats made us do it
Trump has held to his stance that Democrats are the true perpetrators of the situation of families being separated.
“The Democrats forced that law upon our nation. I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children,” Trump said last Friday. “That’s a Democrat bill.”
No bill or law, be it Democrat or Republican, is responsible for separating parents and children, though. Instead, the new “zero tolerance” policy is to blame.
The White House appears to be citing a 1997 court settlement and a 2008 law (signed by Republican President George W. Bush) as proof. But neither one mandates that children should be separated from their families.
Trump has also added that “Democrats have control” to fix the problem, a weird claim at a time when Republicans control both houses of Congress.
The Bible says we have to
God requires that the Trump administration enforce the law and separate families at the border, Sessions said in Fort Wayne, Indiana, last week. A day earlier, a Catholic official had called the policy “immoral.”
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed up Sessions’ comments.
“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” she said. “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”
We have to stop crime
“Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country. Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border. It is historic, with some countries the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S.,” he tweeted.
In reality, there’s no data to support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. tripled between 1990 and 2013, all while violent crime fell 48 percent and property crime fell 41 percent. A slew of studies have also found that immigrants commit less crime than Americans born in the country.
We aren’t even separating families
Before her controversial press conference on Monday, Secretary Nielsen had tweeted that the policy didn’t even exist.
But the policy does exist, and Nielsen has gone on to defend it. U.S. Customs and Border Protection even explain on its website and in a flyer that children will be placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, while their parents are referred to the Department of Justice.
Cover image: Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest in front of the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. District Court building, Monday, June 18, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)