Just hours after his administration put forth a new rule to keep immigrant children detained indefinitely, President Donald Trump insisted that he was the one bringing immigrant families together. He left out the part about them being together in cages.
“If you remember, President Obama had separation,” Trump insisted to reporters on the South Lawn Wednesday. “I’m the one who brought them together. This new rule would do even more to bring them together. But it was President Obama that had the separation.”
Later, a reporter tried to question Trump directly about the “unlimited detention of migrant minors” his administration now supports. Trump doubled down: “I am the one that kept the families together. You remember that right? Just remember I said it,” he insisted. His new policy, he explained, “will make it almost impossible for people to come into our country illegally.”
Trump’s claims of family unity belie the cruelty of these proposed new policies.
Previously, a court settlement known as Flores required that an immigrant child can only be detained on their own for 20 days. While it’s technically true that children were detained during the Obama administration, because of this policy, he would release the entire families after those 20 days so they could stay together. An overwhelming majority of those families — 85%, or six out of seven — returned for their court hearings as required by law.
It was the Trump administration that started the cruel “zero tolerance” policy of family separation, releasing the children as required but keeping the parents detained. In too many cases, these children became lost in the bureaucracy.
Trump’s new policy would detain the children with their parents, which would hypothetically circumvent the Flores decision and allow those children to stay locked up indefinitely.
The Trump administration previously argued in court that while they are detained, children do not deserve soap or toothbrushes, and now it expects to be trusted to house these children even longer. Yes, Trump will be bringing families together, but only to be left to rot in dismal facilities.
The important context in Trump’s comments is his admission that the point of this latest cruelty is to act as a deterrent to immigration. This new rule is only the latest example of this attempted deterrence, including implementing asylum officers and allowing abhorrent conditions in detention facilities. While there’s no evidence such an approach is having any measurable effect, the administration seems to believe it just hasn’t been cruel enough yet.