To put it mildly. Regardless of the origins of this policy, whether it’s a consequence of law or policy, the separation of children from parents at the border has become a bleeding media sore for the Trump administration. Even Anthony Scaramucci, whose enthusiasm for Donald Trump knows few boundaries, calls the outcomes “atrocious” and “inhumane” in this interview with Alisyn Camerota on CNN. If he was still one of Trump’s advisers, The Mooch says, he’d tell Trump to put an end to it:
"I think the President should stop it," says Anthony @Scaramucci of the "atrocious" zero tolerance border policy.
— New Day (@NewDay) June 18, 2018
Having The Mooch come out this harshly against a Trump policy — even while trying to separate it from Trump himself — is a rather surprising development. So too is the Washington Post column from former First Lady Laura Bush, who famously kept her own political counsel while her husband served as president. She made a rare step into the political arena to demand an end to the policies that created the necessity of separating children from parents at the border:
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.
Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.
People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer. I moved away from Washington almost a decade ago, but I know there are good people at all levels of government who can do better to fix this.
The policy may be intellectually defensible, especially in light of what happened four years ago when unaccompanied minors flooded the border. The new policy — announced just a few weeks ago by Attorney General Jeff Sessions — intends on disincentivizing that practice for those who get caught making an illegal entry. And that is defensible, as we do not want children ending up in detention centers designed for adults, but placed in facilities that are designed for their care. Putting those children at risk for separation is a choice made by their parents more than the US government.
Gabriel Malor has a long, multi-day thread explaining that zero tolerance applies to a much more limited circumstance than most assume:
One additional thought to add to this thread: even though it's called zero tolerance or 100% prosecution, that's not quite accurate either.
Reports are that those caught crossing illegally can voluntarily return to where they came from w/o prosecution and family separation.
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) June 18, 2018
However defensible the policy is intellectually, the outcomes — and the optics — are undeniably bad, both for the children themselves and for the administration. It doesn’t help that Trump’s team seems unable to come up with a coherent defense of the outcomes as a necessity for better policy. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted last night that it’s not a policy at all:
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
And yet top Trump adviser Stephen Miller used the same “period” construction to explain to the New York Times that it’s definitely policy:
Mr. Miller has expressed none of the president’s misgivings. “No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he said during an interview in his West Wing office this past week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
Yesterday, though, Kellyanne Conway says that “nobody likes this policy,” except of course for Jeff Sessions, who’s using the New Testament to justify it. Rudy Giuliani told CBS’ Face the Nation that Trump should stop listening to Sessions, as “Jeff is not giving the president the best advice,” while another Trump advisor told the Wall Street Journal that the problem is that the White House hasn’t done a good job of telling the “history of how we got to this point.” Marc Short is reportedly leaving the White House, so maybe he’s wishing that this was all history for him at this point.
Despite denials from Conway and others, it’s pretty clear that the White House moved to its zero-tolerance policy in order to put pressure on Democrats in Congress to move to the White House position on border security and immigration reform. So far it’s backfiring, though, and forcing Trump’s allies to run for political cover, thanks at least in part to the confusion among Trump’s team as to whether this was actually a desired outcome or not. It’s time to come up with a Plan B, and maybe to take a second look at the advisors who drove this decision in the first place.