President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for the separation of families at the US border Friday, a response he’s repeatedly made to criticism his administration has faced since it adopted a policy that results in far more children being separated from their parents.
“The Democrats forced that law upon our nation,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children. The Democrats can come to us as they actually are in all fairness, we are talking to them, and they can change the whole border security. We need a wall. We need border security. We’ve got to get rid of catch and release.”
The President’s comments are significant given how his administration is operating and what Congress is trying to do to address a variety of immigration and border security issues. Just 24 hours ago, House Republicans unveiled legislation aimed at both addressing Trump’s priorities on immigration as well as possibly make changes to protocol to address family separation (more on that below).
To add some clarity here given this morning’s (and the last few weeks) comments, here’s where things stand:
On the ‘compromise’ GOP legislation, and the ‘fix’ on separation
Yes, a compromise bill worked out by House GOP leaders, moderates and conservatives addresses the issue of separating parents from their children, through overturning a settlement that stipulates children cannot be detained more than three weeks so that families are kept together but doing so would allow entire families to be detained indefinitely. House Speaker Paul Ryan cited that settlement on Thursday as the reason this was happening in the first place.
But – and this is a key: the bill does nothing to prohibit the criminal prosecution of parents who cross the border illegally, i.e. the current Trump Administration policy that is driving the separation (children can’t be brought into the criminal justice system).
In other words: It does nothing to stop the current policy. It just requires the government to keep them together when in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security.
So here’s the bottom line: the bill touches on the issue, but it’s hardly a fix.
As one Democratic staffer told CNN: “The answer to separating families is not to put them behind bars.”
Where are Democrats on the separation policy and new legislation?
Democrats want the administration to reverse the policy.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday she sees “no prospects” for a legislative fix. Democrats aren’t even talking to Republicans about a legislative fix – neither in the broader immigration bills to be considered next week or in a more targeted manner.
They are going to the border to highlight the issue. They have marched to highlight the issue. This is a very motivating issue for them. But they see the mechanism for addressing it sitting purely with the executive branch.
Is this the fault of Democrats, as Trump has continued to claim falsely for weeks?
No. This was a deliberate policy shift by the Trump administration. They have the power to unilaterally reverse it. It’s legal, no question, but it’s purely the administration’s decision.
The more nuanced point from the administration is that this is something that can and should be addressed by broader immigration legislative efforts, and that Democrats are blocking those efforts. It’s correct that Democrats aren’t in the room on the current House effort. But this is far more a Republican issue than Democrat one. Here’s why:
1. The President’s immigration bill got all of 39 votes in the Senate (the bipartisan effort also fell short of the 60 votes needed to move forward, but received more support.)
2. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has explicitly said the Senate won’t take up any immigration legislation again unless the House passes it and the President is explicit he will sign it (more on that below).
3. The House Republican effort has been a purely partisan one – Democrats aren’t in negotiations, being consulted, or expected to provide any “yes” votes given the conservative turn even the compromise bill has taken
4. Even the GOP-only effort in the House, which is scheduled to be considered next week, is a long way away from having enough to pass at this point.
5. The President, in Friday’s Fox News interview, said he’s opposed to the GOP moderate-negotiated House bill. This is a kill shot to the entire House exercise, whether they manage the scrounge together the votes or not.
Bottom line: The Trump administration implemented the current separation policy.
While it’s designed, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions describes it, to have a deterrent effect, it’s also a negotiating play to try and force Democrats to the table on immigration legislation the President favors.
But Democrats aren’t in the room on those legislative efforts and the President just nuked the lone House GOP effort that had a shot at passage. And the Senate wants no part of this.
So its prospects – and any effort in the near future to prevent families from being separated at the border – aren’t looking good.