As the movement to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to gain traction, President Trump has gleefully co-opted the issue to argue that Democrats are weak on immigration and want to see the United States overrun with violent criminals. In the past week, he’s installed the position into his lineup of go-to Twitter rants, right alongside the Witch Hunt, “Crazy Maxine Waters” and his vendetta against Harley-Davidson. On Sunday morning, Trump told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News that he “loves” the issue, which he believes will hurt Democrats in November. “You get rid of ICE and you’re going to have a country that you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house,” the president said.
Despite what the president wants you to believe, the real immigration crisis in the United States is not lurking in the bushes outside your living room – it’s in the detention centers housing migrant children who have been separated from their parents at the border, as it has been since the Trump administration instituted its “zero tolerance” policy in May. Despite an order handed down last week calling for all families separated under the policy to be reunited by July 26th – and for all children under the age of five to be reunited with their parents by July 10th – the government agencies responsible for reunification don’t appear to have any clear plan as to how to carry out these directives.
One impediment to the process is that the Department of Health and Human Services may not know how many of the 11,900 minors in custody were split from their parents in the past two months. Two weeks ago, when Trump signed a tenuous executive order aimed at keeping families together while the parents await prosecution, the HHS put the number at 2,053. Last Tuesday, agency officials told reporters they were still housing 2,047 children who had been separated from their parents, meaning, presumably, that only six children had been reunited with their parents in the week since Trump signed the executive order. Now, the HHS is refusing to provide a number.
NEW: @HHSGov is no longer providing the specific number of migrant children held in its custody resulting from the family separation policy. HHS spokesperson says it currently has "11,871 minors in our care" — a number that includes those who crossed the border unaccompanied
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) July 2, 2018
When pressed by PBS NewsHour‘s Lisa Desjardins about the issue, the HHS replied that their “mission has been and remains to provide every minor transferred to HHS, regardless of the circumstances, with quality and age-appropriate care and a speedy and safe release to a sponsor.” A more realistic reason could be that the numbers may actually be higher than those they’ve provided in recent weeks. According to Politico, HHS Secretary Alex Azar recently called on volunteers to review the case files of the 11,900 minors in the department’s custody to determine if there were any that had been separated from their parents that weren’t accounted for previously. Considering the rampant confusion and lack of coordination in handling the issue thus far, it’s certainly possible.
On Monday, a group of 11 Senate Democrats led by Elizabeth Warren penned a letter to Azar and HHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen demanding clarification. Specifically, they asked for an anonymized list of the children and adults who had been separated under the “zero tolerance” policy, including their locations, how long they have been detained and whether family members have been contacted. “We are deeply concerned by reports of chaotic attempts to reunify parents and children that have been separated at the border,” the letter read, going on to note that Trump’s “hastily-signed” executive order “provided no clarity on how to reunify families, or how to handle families that have already been separated or new families that cross the border seeking asylum.” The senators set a deadline of July 6th for the HHS and DHS to comply.
Though the HHS and DHS have bungled the reunification effort beyond comprehension, the blame ultimately lies with the Trump White House. Officials were well aware that the “zero tolerance” policy would result in family separation, but no consideration was given as to how to reunite parents with their children. Federal agencies tasked with cleaning up the mess caused by the administration’s recklessness have been overwhelmed and underprepared. The system at the border wasn’t designed to hold unaccompanied toddlers in custody, and no apparatus was put in place for reuniting scared children with parents who may have been deported, may have been released into the United States or may still be in custody.
The White House’s response has been to continue to blame Congress for not passing legislation to remedy the issue. This is now an even more futile deflection than it was two weeks ago, as House Republicans have failed to agree on either of the two separate immigration bills put to vote since Trump signed the executive order on June 20th. The president provided little guidance to lawmakers, instead attempting to abdicate himself of responsibility entirely. On Saturday, he tweeted that he never advocated for either bill. Three days earlier, he implored Congress to pass the more moderate of the two options, which was up for a vote that day.
I never pushed the Republicans in the House to vote for the Immigration Bill, either GOODLATTE 1 or 2, because it could never have gotten enough Democrats as long as there is the 60 vote threshold. I released many prior to the vote knowing we need more Republicans to win in Nov.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2018
HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY, EVEN THOUGH THE DEMS WON’T LET IT PASS IN THE SENATE. PASSAGE WILL SHOW THAT WE WANT STRONG BORDERS & SECURITY WHILE THE DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME. WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018
To Trump, the humanitarian crisis at the border is old news, and even addressing it is a sign of weakness. Administration officials admitted as much to the Associated Press. Embarrassed by what he views as an act of concession in signing the executive order, Trump has now decided to ratchet up the fear-mongering rhetoric that plays so well with his base. But the president doesn’t seem too concerned with the 66 percent of Americans that oppose the administration’s family separation policy. When asked by Bartiromo on Sunday how he planned to bring together a divided nation, Trump only managed to praise his base, which he called one of the most significant in the “history of politics.” As for that pesky majority of the country that opposes ripping families apart at the border? “I hope the other side realizes that they better just take it easy,” the president said.