Just released emails from May of 2018 showing that the Trump administration separated families at the Mexican border without due process, on purpose, in order to deter others and to inflict harm.
During May and June of 2018, more than 3,000 children were separated from their families at the border. That number grew to over 5,500 by the time the Trump policy was stopped. Many of them have not been reunited still. As with so many things from the dark Trump era, you already suspected this was deliberately done to inflict pain and deter others from trying to cross the border, but now there’s proof.
Lawyers for the separated families say that the separation wasn’t just a horrible result of the prosecutions, but in fact the prosecutions were being used to excuse the child separation which would in turn cause such harm as to deter others from trying.
In the emails covered in the Washington Post’, Trump official Matt Albence complained that separated kids were being reunited too fast, “This obviously generals the entire effort and the Dept is going to look completely ridiculous.”
Weeks into the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, immigration officials fired off emails saying something was awry.
The children were being reunited too quickly with their parents, an official wrote on a Friday night in late May 2018.
“What a fiasco,” Tae Johnson, an official with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), wrote to other officials at 8:29 pm that Memorial Day weekend. Johnson is currently the acting ICE director.
Yes, that’s right. Johnson is still in the government, as are many others who acted out the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
We already knew that the policy was their policy, even though Trump and other Republicans tried to blame Democrats. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions was quite proud of the “zero tolerance” policy that they announced in April of 2018, under which every migrant – including asylum seekers – was criminally prosecuted. This meant that their children were separated from them.
Sessions and Trump’s then Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “repeatedly said at the time that the goal was to punish migrant adults for breaking the law. But migrants’ lawyers argue that the new disclosures show the government intended to separate families and deter others, and they say that bolsters their claim that the government intended to inflict harm,” Maria Sacchetti highlights in the Post.
In June of 2018, Nielsen even falsely denied there was such a policy, even as Fox News bragged about the results of the “zero tolerance” policy. (Note the naming of the policy to make Trump sound like a strongman against the “others.”)
We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.
— Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
ProPublica’s video shows the conditions:
Inflicting harm on refugees fleeing violence is not something a country that prides itself on democracy and freedom does. Refugees international expressed concern at the time that the policy was “in conflict with US international obligations” and “runs afoul of the United States’ obligations under Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol…the Refugee Convention provision recognizes that those fleeing persecution should not be treated punitively, and that recognition is also reflected in US policy.”
The emails were released because lawyers for migrants said officials slowed reunification, and when talks disintegrated, families who were separated sued.
The Department of Justice is tasked with fighting the migrant families over a policy not supported by President Biden (though some separations are ongoing, they are not the result of a deliberate policy to separate families), making this yet another example of the chaos, waste and deep harm done in Trump’s four years.
The Biden administration turned the emails over to the lawyers acting for the migrants in the course of the lawsuits. Days after taking office, President Biden issued an executive order establishing the Interagency Task Force on Reunification of Families to identify children separated from their families by the Trump policy and reunite them.
As with too many things Trump Republican, the cruelty was the point.
This kind of deliberate cruelty has come to identify the current Republican Party’s stance on too many public policies, including their refusal to support the most modest of gun safety measures and their push to punish women for having bodies that get pregnant.
Many conservatives express the belief that this kind of cruelty is necessary in order to achieve goals. That belief is based on seeing problems in an oversimplified manner as children do – with no nuance – and more importantly, it does not uphold the values of this country. The “solution” to a problem is no solution if it deliberately attacks the foundation of the US’s stated values.
There is a strong current of racism that runs through these “beliefs” as they focus on certain countries and certain people. Racism is a tool used by elites to divide the masses so that they are more easily controlled. It is a weapon of distraction and a tool used to grab power by people in power, which is bought into by the people those elites are not helping. The people then blame the “others” for their woes instead of the powerful, who are actually responsible and have the means to enact change but do not because it doesn’t suit their goals.
The Obama administration had a rather smart and efficient strategy of focusing on prosecuting criminals who crossed the border. Broad immigration reform has been stalled in the branch for decades. But that is no excuse for anyone who works for the United States government to enact policies meant to harm those fleeing danger.
We are supposed to be the land of the free. Instead, at Trump’s direction, this country deliberately separated children from their parents as a way to keep desperate people from trying to find refuge here.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more .
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.