Two days after President Trump’s Department of Homeland Security secretary claimed the administration had no policy to separate immigrant children from their families at the border, the president contradicted her — confirming the administration is creating issue of children being forcibly removed from their parents by choosing to criminally prosecute border crossers.
“We want to solve this problem, we want to solve family separation,” Trump said, speaking to a group of small business owners in Washington, D.C. Tuesday. “I don’t want children taken away from parents, and when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.”
He added, “We don’t have to prosecute them, but then we’re not prosecuting them for coming in illegally. That’s not good.”
Trump’s comments come two days after DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen posted a multi-tweet thread criticizing the media for supposedly “misreporting” the facts surrounding the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which aims to crack down on immigrants entering the country through the U.S. southern border.
The policy, announced in April, refers anyone caught crossing the border unauthorized, as well as those seeking asylum in the United States, for federal prosecution — a change in policy from previous administrations.
“For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law,” Nielsen claimed. “…We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
The zero-tolerance policy — which also affects asylum seekers who by definition, as Nielsen admits, are not entering the country illegally — resulted in nearly 2,000 children being separated from their parents in a span of six weeks after it was first implemented in early April, according to the Associated Press.
The policy has sparked widespread backlash, particularly after ProPublica published audio of nearly a dozen immigrant children sobbing and crying for their parents while being held in an immigration detention facility, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents mocked them.
In an attempt to justify the separation of parents and children, the administration has offered a number of confusing statements on the topic.
White House adviser Stephen Miller, largely considered to be the driving force behind the policy, claimed that the decision to implement a zero-tolerance approach resulting in forced family separation was “simple.”
Other officials, including Nielsen, have downplayed its effect on children. “We give them meals. We give them education. We give them medical care. There is videos. There is TVs,” Nielsen said at Monday’s White House press briefing.
Several other senior administration officials have offered conflicting narratives on the traumatic child separation policy. In May, White House chief of staff John Kelly suggested it would act as a deterrent to those seeking to enter the country without documentation, and said children separated from their families would be “put into foster care or whatever.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions also defended the policy last week, citing a Bible verse often used to justify slavery and the Holocaust to defend the administration’s decision.
“Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful,” he said.
During his address to small business owners on Tuesday, Trump also suggested that the United States would revoke foreign aid from immigrants’ home countries, as punishment for not sending “their best,” a line reminiscent of his racist campaign announcement in June 2015.
“Think of all the aid that we give some of these countries,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars we give to some of these countries, and they send them up. Well, I’m going to go very shortly for authorization that when countries abuse us by sending their people up — not their best — we’re not going to give any more aid to those countries. Why the hell should we? Why should we?”