Even When It Comes to Children, Trump Remains Hard

For Donald Trump, separating families of immigrants who illegally enter the U.S. at the border is logical. But his position is not only opposed by the majority of Americans, there is even resistance coming from within his own party.

While the question about how to treat immigrants is threatening to shatter the government coalition, the debate on this topic is escalating in the United States. The trigger for this outcry among the Democrats and for some Republicans was the implementation of a “zero tolerance policy” at the U.S.-Mexico border. This has led to children being sent to locations that are different from where their parents are being held. According to statistics provided by the Department of Homeland Security, more than 2,000 children were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9.

For Donald Trump, this is just the continuation of his uncompromising policy vis-à-vis immigrants living in or entering the U.S. illegally. He places the blame for this separation of families on Democrats and Congress, who, in his opinion, must act to render this policy superfluous.* The American media, however, point out that there is no legal need to separate children from parents. A court previously ruled that parents could not be locked up with their children – unauthorized border crossing is a criminal offense – but the Obama administration responded by releasing families from prison until they completed their asylum procedures. The Trump government followed this policy until the beginning of May, when Jeff Sessions announced the zero-tolerance approach.

Trump hopes to unite his base behind him with his zero-tolerance policy to counter the engagement by Democrats ahead of the midterm elections in November. His hard-line demands and the announcement that he would construct a wall along the border with Mexico were important factors in his success during the 2016 presidential election. Statements from Trump do not show any willingness to compromise. On Monday, he said that illegal immigrants could be “thieves and murderers and so much else,” even if they come as a family. On Twitter, he wrote that “some of the worst criminals on earth” are using children as a means to enter the United States and that he doesn’t want what is happening in Europe to happen in the U.S., without going into what he might mean by that. The White House stated that the real victims are individuals who have been murdered by illegal immigrants, because they “are permanently separated from their families.”

The driving forces behind Trump’s position are Jeff Sessions and White House adviser Stephen Miller, according to a report by The New York Times. The two have worked together for years, and both represent a hard-line stance on the question of immigration. Sessions made it appear on Monday that Congress bears the blame for the distress along the border. If Congress were to enact new laws, then no difficult decisions would have to be made at the border, according to Sessions.

The public appears to be rejecting the practice of separating families, however. Noted statistician Nate Silver wrote on Twitter that just 30 percent of Americans support this policy, while 60 percent oppose it. It is noteworthy that just 55 percent of Republicans are behind Trump on this issue, whereas he normally receives up to 90 percent approval from his party. In a survey from Quinnipiac University, 58 percent of those polled expressed opposition to a wall along the border, while 39 percent approved.

But it’s not just the public; Trump now faces disagreement within his own party. Rep. Steven Stivers from Ohio warned that if the separation of families is not terminated, he may support laws that prohibit it. His fellow party member, Rep. Fred Upton from Michigan, called it an “ugly and inhumane practice,” and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida said that the separation of families is “totally unacceptable.” Even better-known Republicans like John McCain turned against the president. He wrote on Twitter that the current family separation policy is “contrary to principles and values upon which [the United States] was founded.” And Ted Cruz, Trump’s presidential campaign opponent, spoke out against Trump. “All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers. This must stop. Now,” the Texas senator said.

Cruz announced Monday that he had introduced a draft law to the Senate intended to eliminate the problem. This draft law would double the number of asylum judges and reduce the length of the process to two weeks, in order to grant asylum to eligible migrants, while sending all others to their countries of origin as soon as possible. Dedicated accommodation spaces would be built, as well, where whole families could stay for the length of their procedures. “For far too long, children have been the greatest victims of our broken immigration system,” Cruz continues.

Congress was set to address proposals for new legal regulation of immigration on Thursday, in any case. Two drafts are currently before the House. The first, the so-called Goodlatte Bill, is supported by hard-liners. It would provide for a limit on legal migration, drastically increase security measures along the border, but would not open a way for “Dreamers,” immigrants who were brought to the United States as children by their parents illegally, and who hoped to benefit from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act that would allow them to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria. The legislation has not been approved by Congress. The second bill is a compromise that would meet the “Dreamers” part way. The first proposal barely has any chance of passing, and the hawks are refusing to agree to the second bill, as long as Trump does not voice support for it, writes The New York Times.

*Editor’s note: On June 20, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order that ends his policy of separating families by indefinitely detaining parents and children together at the border. The order did not address the children who have already been separated.

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