Trump decides to keep immigrant families together – if it’s not too inconvenient

Protester in Philadelphia, expressing his frustration with President Trump’s “zero tolerance,” child separation policy. June, 2018.
By Sarahmirk [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons
It’s multiple choice, really. There are lots of reasons Donald Trump has decided to rescind his administration’s Draconian policy of ripping babies out of the arms of asylum seekers crossing the southern border of the continental United States. Pick one. I have my opinion.

A) Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Methodist, is being threatened with “termination” from the United Methodist Church, for “child abuse;”

B) Catholic border patrol agents and National Guard are being threatened with not being able to take Holy Communion if they participate in breaking up families and imprisoning children;

C) Trump cares about immigrant families, and it’s breaking his heart to do this;

D) DHS Director Kristjen Nielsen was heckled at a Mexican restaurant in DC, Tuesday night, with cries of “shame,” and more, by an organized group AND other diners, until she was forced to pay up and leave;

E) Melania doesn’t like it, and this time she means it;

F) Governors of both major parties have recalled their National Guard troops from the border, countering Trump’s standing request;

G) Almost half of Republicans in a recent survey are against this awful policy, terrible numbers for a GOP administration that usually enjoys over 80% approval from the rank and file;

H) There’s a catch. As Joseph Heller said, “There’s always a catch.”

One thing I know for sure, though: in a multiple choice test where there are many plausible answers, best practices say to eliminate the ones that are obviously not true. In this case, that’s easy. I think you know this one.

It’s C. There is little chance that this man has found a conscience for anyone other than himself and his family, and – as far as it happens to splash on his DNA carriers – his sycophants in the cabinet and the GOP.

The latter might bring some pseudo-chastising of the folks who hassled Nielsen in a restaurant, but that is likely to be merely lip service. It is possible, of course, that the DHS director is tired of having to defend ICE officers’ actions in the press and in public, and threatened to quit. Still, that’s doubtful, given Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reluctance to tackle another confirmation hearing before the midterm elections.

Yahoo News says Nielsen was instrumental, quoting “Two people close to Nielsen” who “commented only on condition of anonymity.”

According to Yahoo, “One of them said Nielsen, who had become the face of the administration’s policy, had little faith that Congress would act to fix the separation issue and felt compelled to act.”

Although Trump claims to be Catholic, since he doesn’t go to a church where he isn’t the object of worship, it is certain he doesn’t give a crap about what the Holy See, and by inference, any religious denomination, think about him and his administration. That eliminates A and B.

According to some news stories, Melania was an influence, so that answer is at least partly true. Reuters quotes an unnamed White House official, who said, “The first lady has been making her opinion known to the president for some time now, which was that he needed to do all he could to help families stay together.” I expect that is so. I hope she is a practical influence, though I suspect she is behind “feckless” Ivanka when it comes to having The Donald’s ear.

Maybe FLOTUS threatened to visit one of the four “tender age” shelters ICE has had to open for babies and toddlers, which, of course, would embarrass the POTUS.

The public certainly believes her protestations ring hollow. A statement by her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, was posted on Twitter by CNN’s Kate Bennett, Sunday,  echoing the president’s call for Congress to fix the problem his administration created. Her assertion that she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” was met with appropriate dismay by the Twitter-verse, which called her out on her own immigration story.


A Tuesday tweet from her @FLOTUS account was equally chastised, after she talked about discussing “ways we can positively impact children,” with the Queen of Spain. The tone deafness was met with a resounding chorus that can politely be summed up as, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”


Filmmaker and comedian Judd Apatow gave a terse response to the First Lady, saying, “You support evil with your silence. You could have a major impact if you spoke your mind but you allow children to suffer by putting out pointless statements which request no hard changes. Shame on you.” That was one of the more measured responses.

So if you selected “E” as your answer, you grudgingly get half-a-point.

Trump could care less what governors think. If they cross him, he’ll just badmouth them to his base, and in his best Il Duce smirk, stand back with crossed arms and expect the validation to pour in as unabashed admiration.

Let’s talk about the poll numbers, then, and how that could have affected his decision.  This is where my money is.

In separate polls by Quinnipiac and Ipsos, only about half of Republicans supported the policy. By contrast, Trump’s usual numbers among his tribe, since he took office, are averaging in the mid-eighties, and a recent Gallup poll had him at 90% approval in the GOP. The self-inflicted wound made by the family separation policy has to hurt. And in an upcoming election where the numbers appear to be narrowing, raising the hopes of congressional Republicans, it is likely that he was forced to act or risk disavowal from – according to the aforementioned polls – one-third his party, which could easily snowball to half, or more.

This is baby-splitting stuff. Unfortunately, we have a stiff-necked Pharaoh rather than a wise Solomon, though at least he is not casting migrant children into the Rio Grande. Plagued by bad publicity and bad poll numbers, Pharaoh Trumpeses has been forced to sign an order to keep the families together – imprisoned, but together.

That’s the catch. If you cross illegally, together with your children, and we apprehend you crossing the border together with your children, you get detained, imprisoned, and likely deported, together with your children. Strength, through zero tolerance, with zero heart. ‘Murrica.

So it might be, as the Reuters story describes it, “a rare instance…in which [Trump] has changed course on a controversial policy,” but it is hardly a reversal. Children who arrive with the parents at an illegal crossing will still be imprisoned. They just won’t be alone.

That doesn’t mean the children already in separate custody will be reunited with their parents, or that all new migrations that take place at unsanctioned crossings will result in families staying together. Trump’s new order merely requires Homeland Security to keep families together, “to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations.” In other words, if it’s not too big a hassle, either practically or financially, we’ll try to keep them together.

Sadly, it is also unlikely that, under that weak order, any effort will be made to reunite those children already in custody with their deported or detained parents. In fact, Obama era acting ICE director, John Sandweg, explained to Global News Canada:

“If the administration doesn’t reunify these children very quickly, which is logistically very hard to do, you’re going to have a lot of permanent separations…The parents can be sent back very quickly to Central America, whereas the kids are staying in the United States for years while they’re going through the immigration process.”

The problem becomes even more acute when you realize that our government has flown these children from the border to shelters all over the country, including New York, Los Angeles, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where claims of physical abuse by the guards has been reported,  and, of course, parts of Texas, where private, taxpayer funded institutions with a history of abuse have allegedly assaulted, medically neglected, and injected detained migrant children with psychotropic drugs.

The only way can fix this is by providing funds to help children whose legs dangle from courtroom chairs with representation and agency in trying to reunite them with their families. Right now, that’s a private endeavor, and we should not expect public funding for this anytime soon. The government is sparing no expense in prosecuting them for misdemeanors, by the way. We must defend these innocent children at all cost.

CNBC has published a list of valid organizations where you can donate to help in their defense, along with some guidance. The list includes well known places, like the ACLU and ActBlue, and less familiar groups, like The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) which is where the incredibly successful Willner Facebook effort’s millions of dollars is going. Please help.

As a postscript, here are a couple of honorable mentions that did not make the list of possibilities for why this continues, besides that the administration’s tiny, um, hands:

  1. With criminal justice reform emptying jail cells, privately owned prisons need tenants;
  2. Trump needs an excuse to fire Jeff Sessions (see number 3), and he is prepared to hang this policy on the AG’s neck like a lead weight;
  3. As Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) said, this is “the current shiny object,” meaning no one is paying attention to the Russia investigation, which suits Trump just fine.

Have any more? Let me know!


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