The Washington Post Fact Checker gives four “Pinocchios” to President Trump’s claim, made as recently as Tuesday, that President Obama also had a policy of separating families at the Mexican border. Trump said, “President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it, okay?” There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, the Post says. The Obama administration rejected a plan for family separations, according to Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top adviser for immigration. The Trump administration operated a pilot program for family separations in the El Paso area beginning in mid-2017.
In April 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out a “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all adults caught crossing the border illegally. The next month, the Department of Homeland Security began to refer all illegal-crossing cases to federal prosecutors. This meant systematically separating all families caught crossing the border. The Trump administration has identified more than 2,700 children covered by a court order mandating family reunifications. The real number is unknown and could include thousands more. The administration implemented its policy by choice, exercising its discretion to prosecute some crimes over others. No law or court ruling mandates family separations. In its first 15 months, Trump officials released nearly 100,000 immigrants who were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, including 37,500 unaccompanied minors and 61,000 family-unit members. The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.