Controversy over family separations at the southern border of the United States have hit something of a fever pitch in recent days, with protestors marching nationwide to protest the recent actions of Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump’s supporters have been quick to address the issue with a “he started it” approach, frequently blaming former presidents Barack Obama or Bill Clinton for the policy and claiming that Trump is simply continuing it.
Some are now asking, did the Obama or Clinton administrations actually operate using this policy, or is it truly a Trump phenomenon?
First of all, it’s important to note that this so-called policy of family separation is not actually that at all. Trump’s policy, as announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April of this year, is one of “zero-tolerance.” This means that anybody caught attempting to illegally cross the border into the United States will be prosecuted.
Is this any different from Obama’s policy before it? The answer is yes, and it’s not difficult to see where many of the misleading numbers in this case came from.
In the Obama administration, when a person or family would cross the border illegally and be caught, they would be subject to administrative proceedings before being deported. This involves paperwork and documentation, but not the separation of children from their families as some sources online claim. People were certainly deported under Obama and Clinton, but they were usually not detained.
The issues Trump is seeing come about when families are detained. Prior to an executive order signed by Trump on June 20 that supposedly ended family separation, when families were detained, it was illegal for children to be kept in the same areas as their parents. This separated families, and therein lies the issue at hand.
According to Politifact, at least 2,342 kids were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9 as the result of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. The executive order did not end the zero-tolerance policy, but it did call for an end to separating families when the adult or adults are detained with their children.
The heart of this issue, and the problem that many see in it, is the use of children and the separation of children from their families as some kind of illegal immigration disincentive. The possibility of being separated from one’s family was supposed to act as a deterrent. People took issue with children seemingly being used as pawns in such an immigration game.
Now, children are being reunited with their families, but immigration rights lawyers claim that Trump and his administration don’t have a clear path forward when it comes to reuniting kids with their parents. Obama’s administration often released families early in order to avoid this kind of family separation. Obama’s people didn’t avoid prosecuting people who were crossing the border, but rather than using family separation as a potential deterrent to illegally immigrating families, the previous administration saw the possibility of family separation as a deterrent to itself prosecuting illegal border-crossers.
There’s a long road ahead when it comes to reuniting children with their families, but one thing is clear: Obama’s administration didn’t start this zero-tolerance policy, Trump’s did, and no amount of tweeting or lying to the American people will change that.