President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he’s not considering reimplementing his administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, dredging up his earlier claim that President Barack Obama’s administration separated migrant families.
“President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one who that changed it,” Trump said.
Facts First: As discussed in a previous fact check, this is false and requires context. Under Obama, children were separated from parents only when authorities had concerns for their well-being or could not confirm that the adult was in fact their legal guardian, but not as a blanket policy.
The family separation crisis was triggered last spring when Trump tweaked the status quo he inherited from Obama and ramped up strict enforcement of federal immigration laws that were already on the books.
Under past administrations, some border-crossers were occasionally prosecuted, and were thus separated from their families.
The main difference between Trump and Obama, experts have said, centers on how they handled immigrants caught near the US-Mexico border. Under Obama, the Justice Department was given broad discretion on who should face criminal charges, and federal prosecutors rarely went after families.
But in April 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would prosecute 100% of illegal border-crossers in a policy known as “zero-tolerance.” Adults went to jails and awaited criminal proceedings. Children were sent to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and some were eventually placed in foster care.
This specific change is what led to the widespread separation of parents and children, according to Jessica Bolter, a researcher with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute who has published 200 pages of reports on Trump’s immigration policies.
‘Those cages … were built by President Obama’s administration’
On Tuesday, the President also claimed “cages” were built by Obama to house migrant children.
“Those cages that were shown – I think they were very inappropriate – they were built by President Obama’s administration, not by Trump,” the President said.
Facts First: This appears to be true but requires context.
Many of these processing facilities do pre-date the Trump administration, and were constructed during the Obama administration. These include those where migrants are kept in fenced enclosures, the so-called cages.
Given the recent rise in migrants coming to the border, the Trump administration has continued to use the chain-link style fencing enclosures – at least while migrants are being processed following apprehension.
And according to a watchdog report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office last fall, immigration authorities have sometimes held migrant children in these processing facilities for much longer than they should be.
Typically shelters maintained by Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, the office which handles facilities for unaccompanied minors, do not maintain the same chain-link type fencing often associated with the description of “cages.” They do, however, confine the children to the shelter properties and many did become overcrowded amid family separations.
Outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was asked during a March congressional hearing how facilities being used to house unaccompanied minors are different from cages.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman asked: “Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside? Is it different?”
Nielsen replied: “Yes … It’s larger. It has facilities. It provides room to sit, to stand, to lay down.”
‘Many more are coming’
Trump also claimed that ending the zero-tolerance policy has led to an increase in illegal immigration.
“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.
Facts First: Saying that ending zero-tolerance policy is the root cause for an increase in migration to the US ignores a confluence of other factors.
It’s true that the number of people arriving at the border are now set to reach levels not seen in a decade, and there has been an increase since the end of the policy.
More undocumented immigrants were apprehended along the southern border in March than any month since 2008, according to Customs and Border Protection data released Tuesday.
The increase has been paired with a shift in demographics of migrants. There are now more families and children trying to cross into the US, and a majority of the migrants are Central Americans. Family units before the zero-tolerance policy were slightly increasing, and directly after the policy ended, they skyrocketed.
Though there was a slight decrease in total apprehensions and inadmissables logged by CBP during the months in 2018 that the zero-tolerance policy was implemented, apprehensions and inadmissables never got back to their historic 2017 lows. But they shifted up after the program was ended, and are continuing to shoot up now.
A recent increase in migration also comes alongside a series of other factors pressuring individuals to attempt to enter the US, including deteriorating conditions in their home countries, criminal organizations encouraging migration and threats of an imminent US-Mexico border closure.
CNN’s Geneva Sands, Betsy Klein, Marshall Cohen and Priscilla Perez contributed to this report.