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April 11, 2019
Behind the Looking Glass: Trump’s Latest Propaganda on Family Separation
On Tuesday Trump went off the rails when asked whether he would re-start family separation at the border (let’s be clear, it never ended!). Trump went on a Trumpian tirade in which he argued that Obama separated families and the he (Trump) was the one to stop it. See video below.
While the blogosphere goes crazy with liberal indignation, let’s be honest. The policies of the Obama administration did lead to family separation on large scale. The conditions were horrible. From the report “Divided by Detention” issued in August of 2016 by the American Immigration Council:
Through its custody determinations, DHS splits family members—sending them to different facilities around the country—while failing to track and reunite those who arrive separately. While DHS claims that family detention keeps families together, the truth is that a mother and child who are sent to family detention will often have been separated by DHS from other loved ones with whom they fled—including husbands, fathers, grandparents, older children, and siblings. Minors who arrive with non-parent caretakers are often removed from their custody. These DHS custody determinations that divide families do not occur in a vacuum. The administration has targeted these families, while Congress maintains a controversial directive to fund a minimum capacity of 34,000 noncitizen detention beds.
For asylum-seeking families who arrive in the United States together and who are apprehended together, the first point of separation is likely to be CBP’s temporary detention facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border. These holding cells—which are designed for short-term custody of 12 hours or less, yet regularly detain people for days at a time—are commonly referred to by guards and detainees alike as hieleras [iceboxes] or perreras [dog kennels] because of their frigid temperatures and harsh conditions. Detainees are first taken to the hielera, which they describe as extremely cold, overcrowded, and unsanitary. They are denied showers and supplies like soap, diapers, sanitary napkins, and sufficient toilet paper. At night, the lights stay on while detainees sleep on the floor or benches without bedding. They are denied medical care and given inadequate meals and drinking water. Detainees are isolated from their loved ones, their consulate, and legal counsel. They report abusive and coercive behavior from CBP officers, such as pressure to accept their deportation. Some detained families are subsequently taken to the perrera for an additional day, or even for several more days.
It is in this frigid and coercive climate that asylum-seeking families report being separated by gender and age. The women interviewed described the painful experience in the hielera as the beginning of a prolonged and indefinite separation from their husbands or partners, from other adult relatives, and from minor relatives who are not their biological children.
Another report on family separation, Betraying Family Values, issued in January of 2017, prior to Trump taking office, makes clear that many of the institutional problems that have led to the current administration’s failure to properly track family members already existed.
So did Obama’s administration separate families, including taking children away from caregivers? Yes. And this process was just as horrible then as now.
But Trump is still lying. Unlike Obama, the Trump administration has utilized family separation as a specific tactic to deter immigration. Family separation escalated dramatically in the spring and summer of 2018. Trump did issue an executive order suspending family separation - temporarily - but the practice has not ended. The underlying institutional and legal problems that have created this nightmare still exist. They existed prior to Trump; they still exist today. As with everything Trump does, there is a precedent, a prior policy or practice that his administration cynically employs, expands, or abuses, in order to create this phony border crisis and divert resources from things that would actually help.
We have to push back against this administration with everything we have. But pretending that somehow things were tolerable under Obama for immigrants should not be part of the strategy. Trump is lying, as he always does, about his own heroics. But he is not lying about Obama separating families. He did.