As the Trump administration has ramped up the practice of separating children from their parents at the border with no clear plan for reuniting them, critics have been unsparing, calling it “government-sanctioned child abuse.”
But some Trump supporters say undocumented immigrants are to blame for bringing their kids to the border in the first place. They say they believe the administration is simply enforcing existing immigration law.
US law does not mandate separating undocumented families; the uptake in such separations is an effect of a zero-tolerance immigration policy the administration enacted in May to prosecute anyone who crosses the border illegally.
“I blame it on the parents for letting it happen because they bring them up and know they can’t get across there legally,” said Ron Carroll, a 69-year-old resident of Mesa, Arizona.
Other supporters of US President Donald Trump say their feelings on family separation are not so cut and dry. “I don’t want to see families torn apart, but I also support enforcing the law,” said Jessica Lycos, a political consultant based in Phoenix.
CNN spoke to eight people who identified as Trump supporters over two days in the border state of Arizona. Here’s what they had to say about the controversial practice:
Carroll was one of four supporters of who spoke to CNN on Tuesday about family separation over breakfast at Nana Dee’s Diner in Mesa.
A retiree originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Carroll says President Trump should stand by the practice despite intensifying criticism.
“He should enforce the laws like he’s doing, and our Congress needs to abide by the laws and follow the laws and enforce the laws. Not go against our President,” he said. He said he blames backlash over the practice on Congress for signing off on a law without knowing what it says, going back to the Obama administration.
It has long been a misdemeanor federal offense to be caught illegally entering the United States, punishable by up to six months in prison. Previous administrations largely opted not to pursue criminal charges against people who crossed illegally with children, referring them instead mostly to immigration courts.
Under zero tolerance, apprehended parents are held in federal prisons where their children can’t join them.
“Like I said earlier, it’s the parents that bring them up, and they already know they’re going to take them away, so to me there’s no issue there, Carroll said.
Carroll’s wife agreed with him that parents were to blame for being separated from their children. Family separation should be enforced as long as zero tolerance is an administration priority, she said.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m angry at the parents,” she said. “I feel very honestly that it’s their fault that the children have been separated, because they’re bringing them in illegally. And the other thing is, the law that has been put on the books was not put on recently. It was put on back many years ago, and I think very seriously that they need very firmly to say enough is enough.”
She faulted the media for using children to play on people’s emotions.
“I think people need to stop constantly bringing up the poor children, the poor children. The parents are the problems. They’re the ones coming in illegally,” she said. “Quit trying to make us feel teary-eyed for the children. Yes, I love children a great deal, but to me, it’s up to the parents to do things rightfully and legally.”
The 84-year-old retiree said undocumented immigrants should face consequences for trying to cross the border illegally. He worries about “bad guys” coming into the country, or that people may falsely claim to be parents to gain an advantage by using children that are not their own.
“Here’s how I feel about it: When I was a kid, 16 years old, I got fined for swimming in a lake ‘cause I didn’t follow the rules,” he said. “These people that we have coming across the border illegally are breaking the rules. I have no feelings for them at all.”
This mother of two says children affected by family separation are the victims of their parents’ poor choices.
“Unfortunately, those parents and those children are feeling what their choices are.”
A resident of Globe, Arizona, she says she worries about families of undocumented immigrants living off the state. Parents should enter the country legally if they want to be here.
“You can’t just come into this state and reap,” she said. “Do it legally, get your card, become a citizen pay your taxes. That’s what I believe in.”
Lycos attends “Politics on the Rocks” meetups, a monthly networking happy hour for people whose politics skew conservative. She and three other members of the group who identified as Trump supporters sat down Monday with CNN in a restaurant in Scottsdale, a Phoenix suburb.
Lycos said she doesn’t want to see families torn apart. But she said she could imagine scenarios in which separation might be appropriate, including when a family relationship can’t be proven or if the adult is suspected of another crime aside from illegally crossing the border. (Under the zero tolerance policy, neither scenario need apply for family separation to occur.)
She said she believes that family separation is a symptom of bigger ruptures in the immigration system. “We have people who came here the right way. We need to fix the broken immigration system in general.”
The vice president of a private equity holding company, Shiau said he doesn’t believe that the administration intended to harm families.
But it appears that the administration did not fully think through the “human aspect” of how enforcement of a zero tolerance policy would play out, he said.
“I don’t think the people involved want to do it this way, but that’s the way that the policy has been instructed for them to do,” he said.
Padilla, who works in human resources said she does not support separating families at the border. But she supports securing the border, she said, and family separation is part of that, for better or worse.
The practice of family separation started before the Trump administration, she said – it’s just now being implemented at a greater frequency through zero tolerance.
“It’s not just involving separating the families – we’re trying to secure our borders to stop the drug trafficking, the sex trafficking and I think it goes a little deeper,” she said.
“At the end of the day, to make America great again I think both sides of the aisle need to come together.
Kropf, vice-president of “Politics on the Rocks,” said he doesn’t think children should be taken from their parents. But as long as a law that leads to family separation is “on the books,” it should be enforced.
“If we don’t like it, let’s get together and change it. Let’s fix it,” he said. But, with the midterm elections coming up, and the tendency of politicians to play to their bases, he said he’s doubtful that bipartisan compromise will come soon.
“Unfortunately … it’s politics.”
Martin Savidge and Tristan Smith reported this story in Mesa, Arizona and Emanuella Grinberg wrote it in Atlanta. CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed reporting.