What President Donald Trump Said
“President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it. You know it. We all know it. I didn’t have — I’m the one that stopped it. … But President Obama had the law. We changed the law, and I think the press should accurately report it. But of course they won’t.”
Trump has escalated a misleading defense of his administration’s practice of breaking up families to outright revisionist history. There is no law that mandates family separation, let alone a law enacted under Obama. The practice is the result of a policy enacted by the Trump administration, and ended by Trump last June.
Last year, as the Trump administration faced backlash over its policy, top officials countered that Trump’s predecessors had also separated families at the border. That was misleading. While previous administrations did break up families, it was rare — for example, in cases where there was doubt about the familial relationship between a child and an accompanying adult, according to former officials and immigration experts.
Neither former Presidents George W. Bush nor Barack Obama had a policy that had the effect of widespread family separation, Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute told The Times last June. “Nothing like what the Trump administration is doing has occurred before,” she said.
The Bush administration introduced a program in 2005 that also referred for prosecution immigrants illegally crossing the border, but it made an exception for parents with children. The Obama administration in 2014 detained families together, drawing its own criticisms and lawsuits.
Under Trump, the Justice Department announced its “zero-tolerance policy” for illegally entering the United States in April 2018, describing it as “new” and in response to an increase in unauthorized border crossings that spring.
The policy called for the criminal prosecution of everyone who enters the country illegally. As a result, nearly 3,000 children were forcibly separated from adult family members who were detained under the new policy that multiple top Trump officials have characterized as a deterrent.
After widespread condemnation from lawmakers in both parties, immigration activists and the United Nations, Trump signed an executive order in June that attempted to end the practice of family separation. It did not rescind the “zero tolerance” approach toward prosecuting migrants, but said it is now the policy of the Trump administration to keep families together.
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump said that his administration would not revive family separation as a practice, but he added, “When you don’t do it, it brings a lot more people to the border.”