UPDATE 1545 GMT: Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor and Presidential candidate, is the latest Republican to challenge Donald Trump’s policy of separations of children and parents:
Children shouldn’t be used as a negotiating tool. @realDonaldTrump should end this heartless policy and Congress should get an immigration deal done that provides for asylum reform, border security and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. https://t.co/OOjv0vNeVg
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) June 18, 2018
UPDATE 1230 GMT: Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for an immediate halt to the “abuse” of separations.
Hussein cited the conclusion of the president of the American Association of Pediatrics that the detention of children is “government-sanctioned child abuse”.
“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” al-Hussein said.
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) June 18, 2018
BREAKING: Border Patrol releases video of the detention facility in McAllen, Texas.
This is US government video. pic.twitter.com/kOdp5XzuEx
— Antonio Arellano (@AntonioArellano) June 18, 2018
Pressure grows on the Trump Administration — from Republicans as well as Democrats and activists — to end the separation of children from undocumented immigrant parents, but Donald Trump and his inner circle continue to lie about the policy which they launched in April.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” initiative in April, almost 2,000 children have been seized from parents who are summoned to court after crossing the US border. Many of the juveniles are being detained in centers in Texas, with plans for more “tent cities” on military bases.
On Father’s Day, Republican lawmakers and former high-level officials, former First Lady Laura Bush, the conservative newspaper New York Post, and former Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci joined the condemnation of the separations.
But Trump maintained his lie that the family break-ups are from a “Democratic law”, even though no such law has ever been passed and implemented, amid a stream of angry Tweets on Sunday.
Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change! This is why we need more Republicans elected in November. Democrats are good at only three things, High Taxes, High Crime and Obstruction. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2018
He was supported by Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen — whom Trump has publicly berated to the point of resignation — who insisted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
The statement was a direct contradiction of Nielsen’s interview with National Public Radio in May:
Our policy has not changed in that if you break the law, we will refer you for prosecution. What that means, however, is if you are single adult, if you are part of a family, if you are pregnant, if you have any other condition, you’re an adult and you break the law, we will refer you. Operationally what that means is we will have to separate your family.
Nielsen said on Sunday that families could seek asylum at US ports of entry. But journalists quickly pointed out that parents and children are being halted and separated before they can get to those ports.
What about asylum seekers being denied access at ports of entry and held just outside them? https://t.co/nEVb0KISTb
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 18, 2018
Officers have told asylum seekers that the port of entry is at capacity and cannot take applicants. In several cities along the border, those who follow instructions are turned away and told to return later. At some crossings, they camp out for days.
And Nielsen’s assertion of a guarantee against detention and separation at ports of entry quickly came under fire. Congress Carolyn Maloney, among legislators finally allowed to visit detention facilities over the weekend, reported after conversations with detainees, “4 of the men put their trust in our legal system and tried to cross at the boarder [sic] & seek asylum…All were detained.”
— The Intercept (@theintercept) June 16, 2018
Trump’s deceit has also been undermined by his senior advisor Stephen Miller — a driving force behind the separations as well as other hardline anti-immigration measures — who told reporters, “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period.”
Still, Melania Trump tried to provide cover for her husband by trying to pin responsibility on the Democrats. She said in a statement from her office that she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform”
The statement added, “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Children in Cages
Journalists were allowed briefly inside one detention center, holding more than 1,100 people, on Sunday.
By @AP: McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets. pic.twitter.com/YUv7ABml2l
— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) June 18, 2018
The Border Patrol said close to 200 people inside the facility are minors unaccompanied by a parent, while another 500 are in “family units” of parents and children.
Reporters were not allowed to interview detainees or take photos.
One teenager told an advocate that she was caring for a young child whome she didn’t know because the child’s aunt was somewhere else in the facility. She said she showed others in her cell how to change the girl’s diaper.
The advocate, Michelle Brane of the Women’s Refugee Commission, said that after an attorney started to ask questions, agents found the girl’s aunt and reunited her with the 4-year-old.
“She [the girl] was so traumatized that she wasn’t talking,” Brane said. “She was just curled up in a little ball.”
Brane said she also saw officials at the facility scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books.
One boy was quiet, clutching a photocopy of his mother’s ID card.
“The government is literally taking kids away from their parents and leaving them in inappropriate conditions,” Brane said. “If a parent left a child in a cage with no supervision with other 5-year-olds, they’d be held accountable.”
Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said staff at a shelter in Texas are not allowed to console children, to pick them up, or to hug the juveniles to calm them.
A member of the legislative groups, Representative Peter Welch, wrote of “chain link cages full of unaccompanied children. They sat on metal benches and stared straight ahead silently”:
I just exited a border patrol “processing facility” known as the “icebox.” It is nothing short of a prison.
— Rep. Peter Welch (@PeterWelch) June 17, 2018
He also contradicted Homeland Security Director Nielsen’s denial of separations, writing about a Guatemalan mother who requested asylum at the border but was held while her 13-year-old daughter was taken away.
She hasn’t seen her daughter in two days and didn’t know where she was. No one had told her that her daughter had been taken to a shelter.
— Rep. Peter Welch (@PeterWelch) June 17, 2018
Children as Hostages
Trump has pointed to the use of the children to obtain “immigration reform” through acceptance of his demands such as full $25 billion funding of The Wall with Mexico, a sharp reduction in immigrants and refugees, the end to the Visa Diversity Lottery Program, and a halt to immigrants bringing relatives to the US.
He repeated on Saturday:
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
Melania Trump’s statement appeared to be part of those tactics with its less strident call on Democrats to work for passage of the Trump Administration’s proposals.
But Republican voices came out against any preconditions yesterday. Laura Bush, in a rare political intervention, wrote in a guest column in The Washington Post:
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Bush put full responsibility on the Trump Administration, “The reason for these separations is a zero tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine said there should be no separation except in cases where there is evidence of child abuse:
What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you. That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.
On Saturday, General Michael Hayden, former CIA head in the George W. Bush Administration, drew a parallel with Nazi Germany with a picture of the Birkenau concentration camp in occupied Poland:
Other governments have separated mothers and children pic.twitter.com/tvlBkGjT0h
— Gen Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) June 16, 2018
Even Reverend Franklin Graham, a die-hard political supporter of Trump, said the policy is “disgraceful”.
Meanwhile, Trump caused further confusion with his desire to use the children as leverage for his agenda in Congress. On Friday, he said he would not sign a “moderate” bill embraced by House Speaker Paul Ryan, but the White House later retracted the statement, saying Trump was “confused”.