President Trump said Tuesday that the administration has no plans to revive the controversial policy that allowed for family separations at the border, amid renewed speculation about whether the practice could return amid the shakeup at the Homeland Security department.
“We’re not looking to do that,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday prior to a closed-door meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
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He added that “once you don’t have it, many more people are coming, like a picnic. Like Disney Land.”
But he said, “We’re not looking to do it.”
The president ended the practice under pressure and mounting criticism last year.
But the issue of family separations has emerged once again after DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation and other changes in the department. The president also withdrew the nomination of acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Ron Vitellio to become the permanent head of the agency, telling reporters that “Ron’s a good man, but we’re going in a tougher direction, we want to go in a tougher direction.”
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, though, Trump sought to pin the blame on his predecessor for the uproar.
“Obama separated the children, just so you understand. President Obama separated the children,” Trump said. “The cages that were shown, very inappropriate, they were built by President Obama and the Obama administration –not by Trump.”
“The press knows it, you know it, we all know it,” he said. “I’m the one that stopped it.”
Initial images of cages with children inside that spread on social media last year indeed were from the Obama administration. The photos, taken in 2014 by The Associated Press, were wrongly described as illustrating imprisonment under the Trump administration.
But while some family separations may have happened under Obama, it was not nearly as widespread as it was during the Trump administration, amid a “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separations.
Neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration had an explicit family separation policy, but the “zero tolerance” policy meant that anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted, even if they had few or no previous convictions. Under that policy, adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings, while their children were separated from them. If the charges took longer than 72 hours to process, children would be sent from the care of Customs and Border Protection to the Health and Human Services Department.
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Last June, Trump signed an executive order that stopped family separations.
Trump also slammed congressional Democrats Tuesday for not doing enough to “act” on border security.
“Homeland security is what we want–there’s no better term, there’s no better name,” Trump said. “We want homeland security and that’s what we’re gonna get.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.