President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed it was the Obama administration that began the practice of separating migrant children from adults at the U.S.-Mexico border, a contention nonpartisan fact-checkers call “misleading.”
“Just so you understand, President Obama separated the children. Those cages that were shown — I think they were very inappropriate — were by President Obama’s administration, not by Trump. President Obama had child separation.
“Take a look. The press knows it. You know it. We all know it. I’m the one who stopped it. President Obama had child separation,” he told reporters alongside his Egyptian counterpart in the Oval Office.
The independent group FactCheck.org has examined this claim, which has been expressed before by Trump administration officials. The organization labeled it “misleading.”
“Experts say there were some separations under previous administrations, but no blanket policy to prosecute parents and, therefore, separate them from their children,” FactCheck concluded.
Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary under former President Barack Obama, told NPR last June that he could not say definitively that separations “never happened” during the Obama years.
“There may have been some exigent situation, some emergency. There may have been some doubt about whether the adult accompanying the child was in fact the parent of the child,” Johnson said. “I can’t say it never happened but not as a matter of policy or practice. It’s not something that I could ask our Border Patrol or our immigration enforcement personnel to do.”
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker staff has found the president has uttered over 9,400 false or misleading statements since taking office.
Some reports have surfaced since Trump ousted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that the two clashed over the president’s desire to restart the program. He sent mixed signals about that on Tuesday.
“We’re not looking to do it,” Trump said of reviving his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from adults at the southern border. But he also described it as an effective deterrent against illegal migration and contended the Obama administration started the policy.
“I’ll tell you something, once you don’t have it that’s why you have many more people coming,” the president said. They are coming like it’s a picnic, like, ‘Let’s go to Disney Land.’”
Commander Jonathan D. White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, told senators on Tuesday that the White House has not consulted with him about reinstating the zero tolerance policy, which resulted in more than 2,700 children being separated from their parents.
“I would never support the use of family separation and the systematic traumatization of children as a tool for immigration policy,” White said.
With Nielsen on her way out, U.S Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles fired on Monday and the White House last week withdrawing the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Trump was asked Tuesday if he is purging DHS’s senior leadership.
“I never said I’m cleaning house,” Trump claimed. “We have a lot of great people over there.”
Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.