The White House on Sunday continued to lie and evade about its new policy of splitting up migrant families at the border.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Sunday refused to admit a simple truth about the policy: President Donald Trump can immediately end it with a phone call.
At the start of an interview with Conway, NBC “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd played a recording of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) saying just that: “President Trump could stop this policy with the phone call. […] If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell DHS: Stop doing it.”
“Is the President ready to make that phone call to the attorney general, to DHS, to stop this policy?” Todd asked.
“The President is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board,” Conway said, tying the fate of thousands of children (and counting) who have been separated from their families in recent weeks to the complex and politically fraught congressional immigration debate.
Like Trump, she laid the responsibility for the separation of families at the border — a new policy declared in an April memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and subsequently detailed in speeches by him early the next month — at the feet of congressional Democrats.
“If people really cared about [migrant children], we would figure out a way to get the funding to expand the centers, and to close the loopholes. These loopholes are allowing open border policies. I think what the President is saying is that, if the Democrats are serious, they’ll come together, again, and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”
Congress had nothing to do with instituting Sessions’ so-called “prosecution initiative.” The attorney general has ordered U.S. Attorneys to systematically pursue criminal charges against all migrant adults who cross the border in between designated ports of entry, including those who declare asylum. (Customs and Border Protection agents have reportedly told asylum-seekers at designated ports of entry, meanwhile, that they are at capacity.)
Because children cannot be held in criminal detention, the Trump administration’s new policy has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families in recent weeks.
If and when parents are released from criminal detention, some lawyers and activists have described a Kafkaesque nightmare that follows: Parents are given little information about the process for reunifying with their children, who by then have been handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services and treated as though they are “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs.
Todd told Conway it sounded like the White House was treating the children like “hostages” and using them to put political pressure on Democrats.
“I certainly don’t want anyone to use these kids as leverage,” she said. “I saw a headline that breathlessly screamed as much and I object to that very forcefully.”
Todd noted the headline came from an Washington Post article that included an unnamed White House official who said “the thinking in the building is to force people to the table.”
Conway said she wanted “that person to say that to my face.”
But, over and over, she tied Trump’s separation policy to congressional negotiations.
“I would tell everybody, this week, when the President goes to Congress at 5:30 on Tuesday, get together,” Conway said at one point, before an astonishing attempt to blame Democrats for not bringing the issue up during a televised meeting between Trump and members of Congress in January, three months before the new policy was announced.
“One hour! Did this issue come up?” she asked. “The Democrats only want to talk about DACA.”
“Kids weren’t being separated from their parents then!” Todd said. “This policy [was] implemented in April!”
Conway was unfazed: “What they should have said is, look, we had a surge over the border in 2014, Mr. President, under President Obama, and it shocked everyone, and we simply didn’t have the capacity. We want to avoid that in the future and work with you.”
She quickly changed the topic. “Look, the Democrats ought to just own it. Why don’t they say ‘We’re for open borders?’ But they have to be serious.”
She again, falsely, claimed Congress had to act to end the practice of separating families at the border.
“Nobody likes this policy. You saw the President on camera that he wants this to end. But Congress has to act.”
“He can end it on his own!” Todd objected.
Conway ignored him, accurately pointing out that it is a crime, a misdemeanor, to cross the border illegally. But, following the White House line, she refused to acknowledge the simple fact that the Trump administration has only recently insisted on separating families, and that the new policy could end today.
Citing the President’s demand for the construction of more detention centers along the border, including those that could house families, she again put the onus on Congress to act: “If the Democrats are serious, and if a lot of Republicans are serious, they’ll come together. They won’t just talk about, this week, the Dreamers, or just the wall, or just catch and release. It’s all of the above. There are ways to repatriate these families back to their home countries expeditiously.”
Todd moved on, the White House having committed, essentially, to continuing the new policy for the foreseeable future.
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