McClatchy fact-check: Obama stuck kids in tent cities, too, you know

Did Donald Trump originate the practice of separating children from their families after being apprehending for illegal entry into the country? From the hysteria that has prevailed in the media and among Democrats over the past week, one would think that Trump personally dreamed up the practice himself while twisting his moustache and laughing maniacally while puffing a big cigar.


By this time, most readers here already know that the practice actually began well before Trump won his election, and in some cases before he even officially began his run for the presidency. McClatchy offers an overdue fact check to the rest of the media today:

President Barack Obama separated parents from their children at the border.

Obama prosecuted mothers for coming to the United States illegally. He fast tracked deportations. And yes, he housed unaccompanied children in tent cities. …

Obama took several actions that led to an outcry of fear and distrust, though his actions failed to get the attention the Trump administration has.

Gee, I wonder why that was? You all get three guesses to explain why the media didn’t offer the same level of scrutiny to Obama as they have with Trump. And the first two don’t count.

To be fair, McClatchy also notes — correctly — that the scale of this has changed in the Trump administration. That’s true, and it comes as a result of Trump fulfilling a campaign pledge to enforce the law on the border and prosecute those who cross illegally, rather than present themselves at normal ports of entry to apply for asylum legitimately. Families that do the latter have not been separated; the separation applies only to those prosecuted after being caught across the border. The separation issue has largely been driven (as it was with Obama too) by statute and court precedent, especially Flores.


The situation on child detentions was bad enough that the ACLU published a report on it in January 2017 — for a period covering 2009 through 2014. Jake Tapper cited it yesterday in another media fact check:

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union featured in a new report released today show the pervasive abuse and neglect of unaccompanied immigrant children detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The report was produced in conjunction with the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.

“These documents provide a glimpse into a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney. “All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their immigration status — and children, in particular, deserve special protection. The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government’s complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable. The abuse that takes place by government officials is reprehensible and un-American.”

The report is based on over 30,000 pages of documents dated between 2009 and 2014. The documents were obtained by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the ACLU Foundation of Arizona through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit co-counseled with Cooley LLP. The documents feature numerous cases of shocking violence and abuse against migrant children, many of whom arrived in the United States fleeing violence in their home countries.


Not all of the media was entirely silent about it during the Obama administration. In 2015, the Washington Post covered the Juvenile Referral Process, for instance, which intentionally kept children in detention centers for long periods of time as a deterrent. Or, in some cases, in order to develop intelligence on drug cartels that could have been a death warrant for the children once they returned:

Now, as a result of that decision, young Mexicans are being held for months without charge in shelters across the United States, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge. Since the program began in May, 536 juveniles have been held — 248 of whom have been deported to Mexico after an average stay of 75 days, according to Border Patrol statistics. Mexican authorities say some of these repeat border-crossers have spent as much as six months in U.S. custody while they await an appearance before an immigration judge.

During their detention, they are questioned by U.S. authorities and then transferred to a network of facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, across 15 states. …

But the little-known program, called the Juvenile Referral Process, has worried human rights groups and some Mexican officials who fear that it puts the children at risk. They view it as a way for U.S. authorities to gather intelligence about cartels and think it endangers the children who could be targeted as informants when they return to Mexico. Some question the legality of the extended detentions.

“Our concern is that the program’s real intent is to interrogate the kids,” said Maureen Meyer, an expert on Mexico and migrants at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The kids are “often questioned about the criminal groups they are working for and then subsequently returned to Mexico with no apparent concern about the implications for them.”


Putting snitch jackets on minors for cartels strangely failed to create sobbing talking heads on cable television while Obama was president. Nor did the infamous “kids in cages” photos do much to move the media needle when they were published four years ago, even though they made quite an impression on media talking heads when erroneously attributed to the Trump administration this month.

The separation of families is a bad idea, an unintended consequence of well-intended legislation to protect children from adults in lock-ups and a series of questionable judicial interventions. The Trump administration should have anticipated the blowback and taken steps to minimize separations before implementing its zero-tolerance policies, which greatly increased the scale of separations and handed their opponents a yuuuuge political gift. However, this McClatchy fact-check should shame the media for its hysteria and activism, and perhaps lead to a more rational environment where we can devise methods to enforce the law and protect children and families.

If it doesn’t, it just proves that the media doesn’t want a rational environment at all. They just want to dictate outcomes and harangue the Trump administration. I suspect that will wind up being the end result, followed by a number of “why don’t people trust the media” lamentations all through the rest of the year.

Update: The Associated Press didn’t cover itself in glory here:


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