White House legislative director Marc Short on Monday defended the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, which has led to children being separated from their parents.
But Short’s arguments in favor of the administration’s policies don’t quite add up when past government reports are factored into the equation.
In his interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Short claimed the choice between separating children from their parents or allowing them into the country illegally was “binary.”
“To separate the children, or instead, within 20 days, to let the parents and the children go free into society with the expectation they show up for court,” Short said.
He argued that, for law enforcement reasons, letting the families go free within 20 days was an unacceptable option.
“Eighty percent of those that are coming here illegally never show up for court and are never deported,” he said. “We have a crisis at the border. We have a difficult choice. We don’t like the binary choice.”
It’s unclear where Short got his statistic that 80% of the people who come to the US illegally do not show up for court.
The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment about the statistic.
According to the annual Justice Department yearbook of immigration statistics from fiscal year 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, 25% of immigration court cases were decided “in absentia” – without defendants. In that year, there were 137,875 cases. The number of cases decided “in absentia” between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2016 was between 11% and 28%.
The Trump administration also ended a program last year that was bringing every single one of the undocumented immigrants the program served to court.
The Family Case Management Program, ended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in June 2017, had a 100% attendance record at court hearings and a 99% ICE check-in and appointments record, according to a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report.
“According to ICE, overall program compliance for all five regions is an average of 99 percent for ICE check-ins and appointments, as well as 100 percent attendance at court hearings,” the report said. “Since the inception of FCMP, 23 out of 954 participants (2 percent) were reported as absconders.”
In his interview with Blitzer, Short said the law requires the administration to separate children from their parents when they cross into the country illegally.
However, that’s not the case. There is no blanket law requiring all families who cross the border illegally to be separated.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to refer all people who cross the border illegally for criminal prosecution. The practice under past administrations was to refer these cases to the civil courts.
American criminal laws prevent children from being housed in detention facilities with their parents, so bringing these cases into the criminal courts requires them to be separated.
CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this story.