NBC News reported last week that lawyers say they can’t reunite 545 children separated from their families at the border as part of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policy. The policy has been widely criticized as inhumane, and Trump himself attempted to blur the lines of responsibility and soften the reality of what his administration did when he was questioned about it at a presidential debate. Right-wing media has dutifully backed him up, insisting that critics are misrepresenting the policy or lying about the facts behind its origins and implementation.
NBC News’ Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff reported on October 20 that lawyers appointed by a federal judge to reunite families that the Trump administration separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have been unable to find the parents of 545 children, and that “about two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children.” Trump’s administration has tried to dispute criticisms of the child separation policy; a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said that the “narrative has been dispelled,” and White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern claimed that many parents “have declined to accept their children back.” When the topic was brought up at last week’s presidential debate, Trump sought to deflect responsibility, arguing that former President Barack Obama’s administration pursued similar policies.
However, Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was unique to his administration in that it was a deliberate plan designed to deter migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. by separating parents from their children. The punitive motivations for the policy, which was infamously crafted by white nationalist-linked Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, have been made clear through reporting behind the decision. According to a new internal investigation, U.S. attorneys told top Justice Department officials at the time that they were “deeply concerned” about the children’s welfare, but they were rebuked. Trump’s then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to a participant’s notes, said in a meeting that “we need to take away children” so that people won’t seek amnesty out of concern for their families. Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also reportedly emphasized that it did not matter how young the children were -- according to The New York Times, “He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.”
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, spoke to NBC News about the administration’s various explanations:
Responding to the administration’s statements, the ACLU’s Gelernt said, “First, we have not even found these 545 parents so neither we nor certainly the administration can know whether they want to be reunited.”
“Second, in the past there have certainly have been parents who have made the agonizing decision to leave the child in the U.S. because of the danger the child would face upon return. The humane and simple solution is for the Trump administration to allow the parents to return to the U.S. to reunite with their children but the administration is not allowing that.”
Speaking to The New York Times, Gelernt also addressed Trump’s attempt to blame past administrations for the policy during the October 22 presidential debate:
“The fact is no other administration, Democrat or Republican, has ever systematically separated children,” Mr. Gelernt said. “The Trump administration’s actions to systematically separate children is unprecedented and what made that much more horrific is that there was no age limit. Even babies and toddlers were separated.”
On MSNBC, Soboroff also rebuked Trump’s defenses following the debate, noting that the policy “meets the U.N. definition of torture.”
Despite the recent reporting on the policy’s origins, a bombshell internal investigation by the DOJ inspector general, and widespread condemnation from human rights organizations, right-wing media have towed the line on defending the cruelty behind the policy, boosting the defenses put out by the administration, and attacking Trump’s critics.
- Fox host Tucker Carlson defended the policy by arguing that parents are “refusing to reunite” with their children after being separated and complained that if we “let anyone with a child gain immediate access to this country,” then “we would be flooded by millions of new people.”
- Breitbart complained that the “500 missing migrant children narrative” was raised at the debate “despite the facts,” calling it an “out-of-nowhere claim” and citing a DHS spokesperson’s tweet calling the story “wholly inaccurate.”
- Townhall editor and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich argued that child separation was an Obama administration policy that was started in 2014 and continued by the Trump administration.
- On Fox & Friends Weekend, Fox News contributor and former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan pushed back on criticisms of the policy. Co-host Will Cain introduced the segment by saying that Biden “looked to pin the Obama administration’s failed policies on President Trump.” Homan said that he gets “angry every time they push a false narrative” about the administration’s policy, disputed Trump’s reference to ICE keeping children in “cages,” and argued that the policy was put in motion by the Obama administration.
- The Daily Caller boosted DHS’s defense that “this narrative has been dispelled,” claiming: “Deported parents of migrant children who remain in the U.S. don’t want to be reunified with their children.”
- The Washington Examiner similarly echoed DHS’s claims in an article titled: “'Dispelled on several occasions': DHS pushes back on reports lawyers can't find parents of children separated at border.”
- BlazeTV's Glenn Beck attacked the parents of children who were separated, asking, "What parent allows a child to stay in government custody instead of coming home?”
- White nationalist sympathizer Michelle Malkin tweeted: