How Trump Defended Himself Against This New Family Separation Report Is Problematic

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On Sunday evening, Donald Trump took to Twitter to push back against a TV segment on one of his most controversial immigration policies. Trump responded to 60 Minutes' family separation report by questioning its accuracy — and making a false claim about former President Obama in the process.

60 Minutes' show on Sunday centered on Trump's family separation policy, which resulted in thousands of children being removed from their parents' custody when they crossed the southern U.S. border. After significant public outcry, the Trump administration put an end to the policy in June 2018. Though, as CNN reported earlier this month, there are still over 100 children separated from their parents — and they face unlikely reunification prospects.

Trump condemned 60 Minutes' report on Sunday — and also erroneously claimed that his immigration policy is the same as that of Obama's. As the president wrote:

@60Minutes did a phony story about child separation when they know we had the exact same policy as the Obama Administration. In fact a picture of children in jails was used by other Fake Media to show how bad (cruel) we are, but it was in 2014 during O years. Obama separated ... children from parents, as did Bush etc., because that is the policy and law ...

As PolitiFact explained in June 2018, President Obama and President Trump's policies regarding families arriving at the southern U.S. border were not inherently the same. As part of Trump's zero tolerance policy, which mandates criminal prosecution (and, thereby, family separation) of all undocumented immigrants crossing the southern U.S. border, family separation became standard until Trump ended the latter practice.

Under Obama, separating immigrant families was not standard protocol. While family separations did occur, as PolitiFact explained, it happened rarely and was not a policy mandate. Indeed, as ABC News noted, under both Obama and George W. Bush's administrations, family separations usually occurred only if an undocumented border crossing was also linked to another more serious criminal offense, like drug trafficking. Families were not usually separated merely for crossing the border illegally, as they often were under Trump.

Peter Margulies, an immigration law and national security law professor at Roger Williams University School of Law, summarized these differences when speaking with PolitiFact, saying:

Obama generally refrained from prosecution in cases involving adults who crossed the border with their kids ... In contrast, the current [Trump] administration has chosen to prosecute adult border-crossers, even when they have kids. That's a choice — one fundamentally different from the choice made by both Obama and previous presidents of both parties.

In the past, Obama has been critical of Trump's family separation policy. Indeed, back in June 2018, the former president released a statement to mark World Refugee Day, condemning the practice without directly mentioning it by name. As Obama wrote in a Facebook post:

... And to watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question: are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together? Do we look away, or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children? ...

Overall, while Trump has repeatedly claimed that his family separation policy was simply a carryover from the Obama administration, this claim does not reflect reality. It remains to be seen whether the president will continue to make these erroneous linkages between his immigration policies and those of his predecessor.