President Trump on Monday again tried to shift blame for his administration’s controversial policy of separating immigrant families at the border to Democrats, while others in his administration threw up a variety of confusing, misleading and sometimes contradictory explanations and defenses.
“Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?” the president tweeted. “Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?”
“Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country,” he continued. “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.”
“CHANGE THE LAWS!” Trump wrote, adding: “It is the Democrats [sic] fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder [sic] Security and Crime. Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration. Change the laws!”
There is no U.S. law requiring that the children of immigrants entering the country illegally to be separated from their parents. The administration, unlike previous ones, is treating the adults as criminals and jailing them, which requires them to be separated from the children.
In an address to the National Space Council at the White House on Monday afternoon, Trump continued to blame Democrats for the family separation crisis while ratcheting up the rhetoric.
“I say, very strongly, it’s the Democrats fault,” Trump said. “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility.”
“We want safety and we want security,” Trump added. “If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing we could have something done very quickly — good for the children, good for the country.”
Trump’s comments come amid growing bipartisan backlash over the Trump administration policy that has resulted in 1,995 children being separated from parents who are accused of illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between April 19 and May 31.
According to Quinnipiac University poll released by Monday, 66 percent of American voters oppose the policy of separating children and parents when families illegally cross the border, compared to 27 percent that support it.
“I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel,” former first lady Laura Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published on Sunday night. “It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Many of the children separated from their families have been held in detention centers. In one facility toured by the Associated Press, hundreds of children were seen “in a series of cages created by metal fencing.” The children were given “bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.”
On Sunday night, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back against mounting criticism by denying that the policy actually exists.
“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” she tweeted. “Period.”
On “Fox & Friends” Monday, Hogan Gidley, a special assistant to the president, said the policy of separating children from their parents is “all the Democrats’ doing.” But recent comments from members of the Trump administration would indicate otherwise.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
In April, Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance policy,” which he described as an “escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border.” Under Sessions’ directive, all those apprehended for entering the United States illegally — including families with small children — would be criminally charged.
“To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you,” Sessions said. “Illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice.”
Last week, Sessions responded to criticism from church groups and religious leaders, citing the Bible in his defense.
“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,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.
“Our policies that can result in short term separation of families is not unusual or unjustified,” he continued. “American citizens that are jailed do not take their children to jail with them. And non-citizens who cross our borders unlawfully between our ports of entry with children are not an exception. They are the ones who broke the law. They are the ones who endangered their own children on their trek.”
Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary
Last week, Sanders also cited the Bible in her defense of the immigration policy.
“It is very biblical to enforce the law,” Sanders told reporters. “The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close. And these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade. And the president is simply enforcing them.”
Sanders also insisted that ripping children from their parents is a moral practice.
“It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law,” she said.
Chief of Staff John Kelly
In an interview with NPR last month, Kelly said that the “name of the game” is deterrence.
“The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people,” Kelly said. “They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from — fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing — they don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.”
Kelly agreed that family separation is a “tough deterrent” but disagreed that it was “cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children.”
“I wouldn’t put it quite that way,” Kelly said. “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. 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.”
Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller
“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” Miller told the New York Times last week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
During a background call with reporters Friday, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security echoed Miller’s sentiment.
“Advocates want us to ignore the law and give people with families a free pass,” the spokesman said. “We no longer exempt entire classes of people.”
First lady Melania Trump
On Sunday night, the first lady’s office issued a statement saying that Melania Trump “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”
“We need to be a country that follows all laws,” she added. “But also a country that governs with heart.”