Since There’s Been No Immigration Legislation Passed Since Trump Took Office, And Families Hadn’t Been Separated Under Obama Or Bush, We Looked Into This Claim By Trump
Short answer: No. There is no such law.
Long answer: So there is a 2008 law designed to address a suddenly growing problem at the time: undocumented minors arriving unaccompanied at the border. That law was signed by President George W. Bush, and co-sponsored by 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats. It’s designed to protect minors arriving by themselves against human trafficking. But the minors now being separated from their families are arriving with their families, so how does that law apply? It’s all in the way those families are being processed by Trump and his folks. As Philip Bump explains in the Washington Post, because the minors are separated from their families, they are then reclassified as “unaccompanied” and move through the legal process separately. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy of separating families earlier this month he said doing so was “required by law”. But that appears to only be because of the completely unnecessary change to the the way the Trump Administration is deciding to divide up and reclassify members of undocumented families at the border.
Couple Of Other Quick Notes
• The Trump Administration was doing anything but trying to deflect the cruelty of this new policy (which has been in place for nearly a month), until it became a major issue this weekend (and a clear negative for the White House). In fact, if you listened to Trump’s people before this weekend, the policy is meant to be “horrible”, because it is meant to be a deterrent. They’re almost proud of it: it’s “the name of the game” says White House Chief of Staff (and former Homeland Security Director) John Kelly. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of an NPR interview Kelly did this month:
“NPR: Are you in favor of this new move announced by the attorney general early this week that if you cross the border illegally even if you’re a mother with your children [we’re going] to arrest you? We’re going to prosecute you, we’re going to send your kids to a juvenile shelter?
Kelly: The name of the game to a large degree. Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.
NPR: Family separation stands as a pretty tough deterrent.
Kelly: It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent. A much faster turnaround on asylum seekers.
NPR: Even though people say that’s cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children?
Kelly: I wouldn’t put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”
• As we’ve noted before, the only negative thing that seems to resonate with the staunch Trump supporters we know is when he’s being “just plain cruel”. They generally voted for him to “shake things up”, and they didn’t much care how he did it. And in that regard they are generally happy. Except when he goes over the edge into cruelty. Like with this or in his tone-deaf “Happy Memorial Day” message. But these seem to be the only things that resonate even a little.
• We believe Trump’s Tweet isn’t simply an attempt to deflect criticism and make him look less cruel. It’s an outline for a strategy he plans to pursue that he believes will give him another shot at getting his “wall”. It’s almost exactly what he did when he said he would kill DACA (that’s the program allowing undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. since childhood to stay): announcing a super-cruel policy, then bargaining with Democrats to reverse it by agreeing to give him his “wall”. And Democrats bit: Trump had a deal on the table to get full funding for his wall in exchange for restoring DACA. However, he then decided (or people around him convinced him) to demand more; that deal fell through, and he was left with nothing.
• The separation of minors issue is getting leading Republicans in both the House and Senate calling for a resolution. But no way they’re going to pass a law that just forbids the President from separating minors from their families. If it happens at all, it’ll be part of another attempt at an immigration package. Which the President won’t sign without getting his wall fully funded up front. (He well knows this has to happen this year, because if Democrats flip the House or Senate in the fall, it’ll probably never happen.) So as ridiculous as his Tweet seems, look for Trump to try to pick up on that theme and run with it anyway. In fact, he did just that today in an early morning Tweet:
He wants his wall. And a Nobel Prize.
(To that end, according to South Korean news reports, a senior North Korean official is on a commercial Air China flight right now bound for the U.S. And Trump confirms this in an early A.M. Tweet. His purpose: reviving talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump cancelled those talks last week, but then abruptly seemed to change his mind.)