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Michael A. Cohen

President Trump’s web of lies on separating children from parents

President Trump during an event on tax policy in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 12.Bloomberg photo by Al Drago

President Trump is a liar.

His administration is stocked with people who consistently lie in order to support his falsehoods.

The gaslighting is constant and unending.

The serial dishonesty of this White House is not news, but when it’s paired with the barbaric policy of separating migrant children from their parents, those deceits take on even greater significance. It’s one thing to lie about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration; it’s quite another to do it on an issue like the safety of children.

While the president has allegedly reversed course on the separation policy, it is essential to keep up the scrutiny and set the record straight on what has really taken place here.


Over the weekend, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tweeted this out:

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

On Friday, Trump said that the administration was separating families out of adherence to the law. “The Democrats gave us the laws. I want the laws to be beautiful.”

“Democrats,” he tweeted, “can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

This is a lie.

The administration’s separation policy is not a law, and it was not forced upon the White House. Rather, it was a conscious, purposeful decision that administration officials boasted about before the current backlash began.

On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Homeland Security would “now” begin “referring 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution.”

According to Sessions, this new tactic represented a “zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry.” Just in case there was some confusion as to how this pertained to parents with children, Sessions made it clear. “If you are smuggling a child,” he said, “then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”


By choosing to prosecute all undocumented immigrants, it meant that children would be taken away from their parents when they were taken into custody. Previously, administrations had made exceptions when it came to parents traveling with minors — and endeavored to keep families together. Sessions’ announcement changed all that.

Four days later, White House chief of staff John Kelly was asked about “this new move announced by the attorney general.”

Kelly did not correct his interviewer and say that the administration was merely implementing the law. Instead, he clearly stated that the “new” policy was intended to be a “tough deterrent.” When asked if ripping children from their parents is “cruel and heartless,” he responded that “children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” He also reminded his interviewer that illegal entry into the United States is a crime, which made family separation necessary as a deterrent, and added “this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

There is no ambiguity here. Both Kelly and Sessions understood — and were not afraid to express publicly — the practical effects of this new policy and how it would impact children. The administration only began to change its messaging once the political backlash against the policy began.


What did not change in the administration’s messaging, however, was blaming Democrats for the problem.

The Democrats, claimed the president in a tweet, “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.” He complained that Democrats have “opposed every measure that would close these immigration loopholes and bring the slaughter to an end.”

These are lies. Under President Obama, more than five million people were deported from the United States. In addition, more than three million who were caught at the US-Mexico border were forcibly removed — that’s a higher number than under either President Clinton or President Bush. Indeed, many of Obama’s political allies criticized the administration for what were seen by many as harsh deportation policies.

On the issue of crime, study after study shows that undocumented immigrants are far less likely than native-born Americans to break the law. Indeed, according to research studies, states with increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants have seen their crime rates go down.

As for the argument that Democrats do not want to compromise on immigration — this too is a lie. Two immigration bills are being debated in Congress. Neither has received input from Democrats: only Republicans are debating them.

But if we go back a few months to the brief government shutdown, Senate Democrats indicated a willingness to support compromise legislation that would have appropriated money for Trump’s border wall in return for an agreement that would allow DACA recipients (namely those who came to America as children) to stay in the country and avoid deportation.


Who backed out of that potential deal?

Trump. Indeed, it’s striking to note: The president unilaterally ended DACA and unilaterally implemented the family separation policy. Then, when facing a backlash, he backtracked and falsely claimed that Democrats were the ones responsible for both policy decisions. One might conclude from all this that Trump has never wanted a deal on immigration and would rather use the issue as a political rallying cry for his most ardent supporters.

Finally, the administration likes to argue that on one side of the immigration debate are Republicans who support border security and on the other side are Democrats who want “open borders.”

But that’s not even remotely close to reality. Clearly there are more than a few Democrats who oppose the administration’s enforcement policies and many who would like to see undocumented immigrants receive a path to citizenship, but I can’t think of one prominent Democrat who is arguing against border security or suggesting that America should have an open immigration policy. The notion that the Democrats support “open borders” is yet one more Trump lie.

Thankfully, however, public outcry from activists, the media and ordinary citizens became too much for Trump to try and withstand. But he still found time for one more deceit.


Days after the White House insisted the president was powerless to change the family separation policy without action by Congress, even telling reporters on Friday, “You can’t do it through an executive order,” guess what he did?

He signed an executive order reversing the policy.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.