Trump: No, we're not going to do family separation again at the border

A leftover. The word from reporters a few days ago after Kirstjen Nielsen was finally booted was that Trump had long wanted to resume the policy and would seek to do so now that she wasn’t there to resist. Senate Republicans were worried after hearing that, remembering how unpopular separating parents from kids was when the administration tried it last year.

Reporters pressed him about it Tuesday. Is it true? With Nielsen out, is he preparing to take draconian measures to deal with the insane crush of asylum-seekers at the border? Nope, said Trump.

“We’re not looking to do that, no. We’re not looking to do that,” Trump said.

But, he added, “when you don’t do it, it brings a lot more people to the border.”

“Now, I’ll tell you something, once you don’t have it, that’s why you have many more people coming. They are coming like it’s a picnic, like ‘let’s go to Disneyland,’ ” Trump said.

Was the report earlier this week that he wanted to bring back family separation wrong, or is A.B. Stoddard right that Trump did intend to resurrect the policy but was privately lobbied by Republicans not to do it? If so, that would be a reversal of a reversal of a reversal — from family separation last year to an executive order banning the practice to Trump preparing to reinstate it to Trump changing his mind. It would also be in keeping with his general whiplash approach to immigration policy, which can range from him floating amnesty deals to Democrats to shutting down the government over wall funding to taking conciliatory and hardline approaches at the same time. That’s what he’s doing right now, in fact: Amid the purge at DHS and a tilt towards stronger enforcement measures, he’s been talking up the fact that Jared Kushner is working on a new immigration plan that would increase legal immigration to the U.S., including immigration by low-skilled workers.

“It’s Trump vs. Trump as immigration divides White House,” says Politico of POTUS’s two minds. Added WaPo, “Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior over the past 12 days … has alarmed top Republicans, business officials and foreign leaders who fear that his emotional response might exacerbate problems at the border, harm the U.S. economy and degrade national security.” Whatever his reasoning for ruling out a return to family separations, congressional Republicans are bound to feel some relief about that, at least. Unless … he’s not really ruling it out but distinguishing between old and new versions of the policy. The old family separation policy was mandatory. The new family separation policy would be optional, with the family itself left to choose:

The “binary choice” policy, as it’s being referred to in internal discussions, aims to deter illegal immigration by presenting migrant parents who are caught crossing the border illegally with a stark option: They can remain detained with their children indefinitely while they await a final removal order, or they can release their children into a separate government shelter where other relatives could take custody of them…

“Binary choice is different. That’s up to the parent. That means we wouldn’t be separating anybody. The parent makes that decision,” the official said.

A second senior administration official confirmed the discussion, but said that officials in charge of immigration policy “presume relatively few people would choose” the latter option, in which parents would await their removal order while in separate custody from their children.

Assuming it’s even legal to detain minors indefinitely with their parents if the parents select that option, an obvious logistical problem is how to house entire families when the feds are already crushed trying to find detention space for asylum-seekers.

David French says it’s time for Trump to make an immigration deal with Democrats, as that’s the only way to gain their cooperation in urgently reforming asylum laws. They shouldn’t need a policy sweetener to incentivize them to address a problem as basic as a mass influx of people seeking entry to the U.S. on the pretense of asylum, but they’re an open-borders party now so they do. Trump is doing his best to exploit that politically, with Trumpy hyperbole…

…and will continue to do so next year with some success. The worse the crisis gets, the starker the contrast becomes between his urgency to solve the problem and Democrats’ comparative paralysis. But in the meantime, we’re stuck with 100,000 illegals a month for the foreseeable future. That in itself presents a risk to Trump despite the fact that Democrats are the chief enforcement obstacle: “He needs to be seen by voters as having done every conceivable thing he can possibly do” about illegal immigration, said Mark Krikorian to WaPo. Will he be seen that way if, despite his best efforts, border crossings have actually increased during his presidency when Americans go to vote next fall?

Here he is yesterday in Texas discussing the issue. I don’t want to know how he thinks U.S. troops “normally act” when confronted by unarmed people.