Trump repeats false claim that a 'Democrat bill' is to blame for his policy of separating migrant children from their parents

WASHINGTON — In a lengthy, unprompted question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday morning, President Trump again pointed his finger at Democrats for a series of recent cases in which migrant children were taken from their parents following illegal border crossings.

“I don’t like the children being separated from the parents. I don’t like it. I hate it, but that’s a Democrat bill that we’re enforcing. We can change it in one day. All they have to do is come and see us,” Trump said.

In fact, the spate of child separations are the result of recent Trump administration policy. There is no law that orders parents and children to be separated after illegal border crossings, and Democrats have never pushed for such a policy.

Friday’s remarks were not the first time Trump has tried to blame the opposing party for children being taken from their parents at the border.

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Syrian refugee children from Afrin, who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, play with a dog at the train station of the city of Orestiada, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A group of Syrian refugees walk in a field after crossing the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, near the city of Didymoteicho, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A Syrian refugee girl from Afrin, who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, sleeps on a bench at the train station of the city of Orestiada, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugee Omar Walid (C), 25, from Aleppo who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey with a group of Syrians, discusses whether they should move forward or wait for the Greek police to arrive, near the city of Didymoteicho, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugees from Afrin, who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, wait at the train station of the city of Orestiada, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Clothes and shoes left behind by refugees and migrants that crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, are seen scattered at a train stop in the village of Pythio, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A group of Syrian refugees who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, walk towards the city of Didymoteicho, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A boy looks through a bus window as refugees and migrants who left a first reception centre board a bus to Thessaloniki, in the village of Fylakio, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugee Zamilla Ammal (R), 39, and four of her seven children, who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, walk towards the village of Pythio, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A migrant girl plays near a window at a first reception centre for refugees and migrants near the village of Fylakio, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A Syrian refugee family who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, sleep at a train stop in the village of Pythio, Greece, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A migrant who crossed the Evros river from Turkey to Greece, demonstrates his bruised arm in the village of Pythio, Greece, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugee Hossam Eldin, 55, who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, with his family, prays at a train stop in the village of Pythio, Greece, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Refugees and migrants who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, are seen at a first reception centre at the village of Fylakio, Greece, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Refugees and migrants who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, walk on the railway tracks in the village of Pythio, Greece, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugee girl Zena is carried by a fellow refugee walking on the railway tracks in the village of Pythio, Greece, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Two Greek Army watchtowers (L) and one Turkish Army watchtower are seen at the borderline between Greece and Turkey, near the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A damaged inflatable boat used by refugees and migrants to cross the Evros river, is seen at the banks of the river on the Turkish side, May 1, 2018. Picture taken from the Greek side of the border. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Syrian refugees who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, move towards a police truck to be transferred to a first reception centre, near the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugees who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, rest in a field as they wait for the police to arrive and transfer them to a first reception centre, near the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A Syrian refugee who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, rests in a field as they wait for the police to arrive and transfer them to a first reception centre, near the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
A view of the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, with Turkey seen in the background, near the village of Pythio, Greece, May 1, 2018. Picture taken from the Greek side of the border. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugees who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, board a police truck transferring them to a first reception centre, near the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugees from Afrin who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, walk on the road in the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
Syrian refugee Ramadan from Afrin carries his one-month-old baby boy Abdu, after crossing the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, in the village of Nea Vyssa, Greece, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis 
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“Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats,” Trump wrote in a June 5 tweet. “Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together!”

Associated Press fact checkers reviewed that tweet and concluded the separations were “likely” the result of a new “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April. That policy orders authorities to treat all illegal border crossings as crimes, which means adult border crossers are arrested. Typically, when a parent is jailed, their children are separated from them.

“So while separating families might not have been the administration’s intention, it is an obvious consequence of the policy,” the Associated Press wrote.

The policy drew condemnation from the United Nations earlier this month. Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office, called for an “immediate halt” to the separations.

“The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child,” Shamdasani said.

The separation policy has led to traumatic situations, including a case documented by the New York Times where a 5-year-old boy from Honduras was unable to speak to his parents for an extended period after being placed in foster care. According to the newspaper, the boy cried extensively and slept with drawings of his mother and father. According to figures provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 650 children were separated from their parents during a two-week period last month, the Associated Press reported. A spike in border apprehensions has followed Trump’s call for increased enforcement.

The White House did not respond to a request of clarification on what Trump was referring to when he blamed the familial separations on Democrats. In his comments, Trump seemed to connect the issue with the failure to reach a larger deal with Democrats on immigration reform.

Trump and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer nearly made an immigration deal in January as the government was on the verge of a shutdown. However, that agreement fell apart when the White House asked for additional concessions. Schumer and Senate Democrats subsequently rejected an immigration framework that was proposed by Trump later that month.

“You know, Schumer is a guy, he complains but he doesn’t do anything. Schumer is a guy who is an obstructor. He can’t do anything. All he can do is obstruct,” Trump said Friday. “All they have to do is call us and we’ll draw a bill that gives us great border security and is fair.”

Asked about Trump’s comments, Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for Schumer, said blame for the child separations lies squarely with Trump.

“The president can blame Democrats all he wants, but this wasn’t happening until a few months ago. It is a direct result of the president’s own actions,” Roefaro said.

As the recent separations have gained attention, there have also been questions about the conditions the children are being subjected to after being taken from their parents. Some Trump administration critics have falsely used photos taken in 2014 of children being held in chain-link enclosures. Those pictures were shot during a rise in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border from Central America amid growing violence in the region. The administration of President Barack Obama was sharply criticized for holding the children in those conditions.

While some of the critiques claiming children are being held in chain-link cages where they are forced to sleep on concrete floors were based on outdated evidence, there are indications the practice may be continuing. Earlier this month, Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, visited a detention facility in Texas where he told CNN there were “hundreds of children locked up in cages.”

“They have big cages made out of fencing and then wire and nets stretched across the top of them so people can’t climb out of them,” Merkley said, later adding, “And in a lot of these areas that I saw yesterday morning at the processing center, it’s just a concrete floor and people are being given these space blankets to sleep on. Now, a space blanket is a very thin piece of — the equivalent of foil. And so, obviously, a very uncomfortable situation to be in.”

Merkley’s office claimed he was not allowed to photograph the facility. Another Democratic senator, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, has said he was denied access to a similar facility in California.

The Trump administration has argued that children are treated well at these detention centers and that they are only held at these facilities for three days before being placed with host families or in licensed foster homes.

“Those children are being well taken care of,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a radio interview on June 5.

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