WASHINGTON — In a lengthy, unprompted question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday morning, President Trump again pointed his finger at Democrats for a series of recent cases in which migrant children were taken from their parents following illegal border crossings.
“I don’t like the children being separated from the parents. I don’t like it. I hate it, but that’s a Democrat bill that we’re enforcing. We can change it in one day. All they have to do is come and see us,” Trump said.
In fact, the spate of child separations are the result of recent Trump administration policy. There is no law that orders parents and children to be separated after illegal border crossings, and Democrats have never pushed for such a policy.
Friday’s remarks were not the first time Trump has tried to blame the opposing party for children being taken from their parents at the border.
“Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats,” Trump wrote in a June 5 tweet. “Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together!”
Associated Press fact checkers reviewed that tweet and concluded the separations were “likely” the result of a new “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April. That policy orders authorities to treat all illegal border crossings as crimes, which means adult border crossers are arrested. Typically, when a parent is jailed, their children are separated from them.
“So while separating families might not have been the administration’s intention, it is an obvious consequence of the policy,” the Associated Press wrote.
The policy drew condemnation from the United Nations earlier this month. Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office, called for an “immediate halt” to the separations.
“The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child,” Shamdasani said.
The separation policy has led to traumatic situations, including a case documented by the New York Times where a 5-year-old boy from Honduras was unable to speak to his parents for an extended period after being placed in foster care. According to the newspaper, the boy cried extensively and slept with drawings of his mother and father. According to figures provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 650 children were separated from their parents during a two-week period last month, the Associated Press reported. A spike in border apprehensions has followed Trump’s call for increased enforcement.
The White House did not respond to a request of clarification on what Trump was referring to when he blamed the familial separations on Democrats. In his comments, Trump seemed to connect the issue with the failure to reach a larger deal with Democrats on immigration reform.
Trump and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer nearly made an immigration deal in January as the government was on the verge of a shutdown. However, that agreement fell apart when the White House asked for additional concessions. Schumer and Senate Democrats subsequently rejected an immigration framework that was proposed by Trump later that month.
“You know, Schumer is a guy, he complains but he doesn’t do anything. Schumer is a guy who is an obstructor. He can’t do anything. All he can do is obstruct,” Trump said Friday. “All they have to do is call us and we’ll draw a bill that gives us great border security and is fair.”
Asked about Trump’s comments, Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for Schumer, said blame for the child separations lies squarely with Trump.
“The president can blame Democrats all he wants, but this wasn’t happening until a few months ago. It is a direct result of the president’s own actions,” Roefaro said.
As the recent separations have gained attention, there have also been questions about the conditions the children are being subjected to after being taken from their parents. Some Trump administration critics have falsely used photos taken in 2014 of children being held in chain-link enclosures. Those pictures were shot during a rise in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border from Central America amid growing violence in the region. The administration of President Barack Obama was sharplycriticized for holding the children in those conditions.
While some of the critiques claiming children are being held in chain-link cages where they are forced to sleep on concrete floors were based on outdated evidence, there are indications the practice may be continuing. Earlier this month, Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, visited a detention facility in Texas where he told CNN there were “hundreds of children locked up in cages.”
“They have big cages made out of fencing and then wire and nets stretched across the top of them so people can’t climb out of them,” Merkley said, later adding, “And in a lot of these areas that I saw yesterday morning at the processing center, it’s just a concrete floor and people are being given these space blankets to sleep on. Now, a space blanket is a very thin piece of — the equivalent of foil. And so, obviously, a very uncomfortable situation to be in.”
Merkley’s office claimed he was not allowed to photograph the facility. Another Democratic senator, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, has said he was denied access to a similar facility in California.
The Trump administration has argued that children are treated well at these detention centers and that they are only held at these facilities for three days before being placed with host families or in licensed foster homes.
“Those children are being well taken care of,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a radio interview on June 5.