President Donald Trump continued to mislead about the origin of the humanitarian crisis on the US border on Thursday, a day after caving to political pressure on the issue.
Loath to appear weak on immigration and borders, Trump continued alleging Democrats were to blame for the catastrophe, which he had sought to reverse a day earlier with an executive order.
The President was not required to sign anything to change the administration’s practice that elicited outrage. He could have reversed the practice of splitting children from their parents with a phone call. As it stands, the hastily written order is mired in confusion, with little clarity on how families will be reunited.
Trump mentioned that act only in passing on Thursday, returning instead to his misleading and sharp rhetoric blaming political opponents for what he claimed were the weakest immigration laws in the world.
“They don’t care about the children. They don’t care about the injury,” he said of Democrats during a meeting of his Cabinet at the White House. “They don’t care about the problems. They don’t care about anything.”
Claiming his opponents refuse to approve new funds for detention facilities for children – “Let’s run the most luxurious hotel in the world for everybody – but they don’t want to give us the money,” he said – Trump insisted that conditions at some of the centers were “the nicest that people have seen.”
“They talk about inhumane treatment. I read them. I looked at them. They’re all over the place,” Trump said during a lengthy and at times disjointed opening statement. “We have a situation where some of these places, they’re really running them well.”
As he spoke, Trump’s wife Melania was arriving at the southern border to tour a detention facility and speak with officials. She offered a softer image of the administration’s immigration stance, greeting children and asking how she could help.
“I also like to ask you how I can help to be sure these children reunite with their families as quickly as possible?” she asked an official at the Texas facility, before inquiring about the physical and mental state of the children when they arrived.
Later, she told some of the children to be nice to one another as she visited their living quarters.
Whether those children will be reunited with their parents following Trump’s executive order remains to be seen. At the White House, Trump conceded that the document he signed on Wednesday was limited in its scope.
“Democrat and court-ordered loopholes prevent family detention and lead to family separation, no matter how you cut it,” the President said. “I signed a very good executive order yesterday, but that’s only limited. No matter how you cut it it leads to separation, ultimately.”
The document the President signed was assembled hastily and government agencies scrambled late Wednesday and Thursday to assess its implications. Initially, the government said the 2,300 children currently separated from their parents would remain so; later, officials clarified the children would be reunited with family members.
The order directed other agencies, including the Pentagon, to take steps to find places to house family units and specifies that migrants entering the US with children will not be kept together if there’s a fear for the child’s welfare. Families will also be prioritized in the adjudication process.
Even so, the move is almost certain to face immediate legal action challenging the administration’s authority to keep families detained at length.
Trump’s remarks on Thursday reflected his continued frustration on the immigration issue, which was a touchstone of his campaign. He has remained intent on fulfilling his promises, including building a border wall. But he’s struggled to gain funding approval from Congress.
Lawmakers postponed a vote expected on Thursday for a bill that would include funding for the wall along with end the family separation practice.
In his remarks, Trump vented at Mexico for doing little to curb the flow of migrants.
“They walk through Mexico like it’s walking through Central Park. It’s ridiculous,” he said.
And he said some of the children coming to the US are arriving with “coyotes” and human traffickers, blaming “the Democrat-supported policies” for allowing it to happen.
“We’re getting some real beauties,” he said with sarcastic chagrin.