Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

President Donald Trump framed immigration policy Wednesday between two poles: The country could be “overrun with millions of people,” or he could be accused of not having “any heart.”

For a President who has reportedly used racist language in reference to certain African nations and Haiti, and who has described undocumented immigrants as “animals” who “infest” the country, the rhetoric added to a list of sentiments from the President that undocumented immigrants are a problem to be dealt with, a drain on the vitality of a nation.

“The dilemma” with the immigration debate, Trump told lawmakers during a televised meeting Wednesday, “is that if you’re weak, if you’re weak — which some people would like you to be — if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people.”

“And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart,” he said. “That’s a tough dilemma.”

“Perhaps I would rather with strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.”

Trump also announced in the meeting that he would be signing an executive order to “keep families together,” without explaining further. His administration’s policy of family separation for migrants apprehended at the border has resulted so far in thousands of separated families since April, averaging dozens a day recently.

He’s otherwise kicked the can to Congress, where Republican lawmakers have by and large refused to pressure him publicly to simply undo the policy, which the President has the power to do. The family separations have added political weight to sprawling Republican immigration proposals that would affect far more than the narrow issue of family separation.

Trump didn’t elaborate on the family separation executive order he said he planned to sign. But he asserted he had to “maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun: by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want.”

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House Republican leadership on Wednesday silently accepted the Trump administration’s lie that the President is powerless to end his own policy of separating immigrant families at the border, letting Trump off the hook for a policy that has split up dozens of families per day with little apparent pre-planning for how to reunite those families as they are processed through criminal and civil courts.

“The administration says it wants Congress to act, and we are,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said at a press conference Wednesday, after claiming House Republicans were opposed to “breaking families apart.”

“I do not believe that the government should be separating families and children at the border,” Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said.

McMorris Rodgers said in a statement Monday that “the administration should stop the practice of separating families on their own.” But the statement hedged that “President Trump has made it clear that Congress must make a formal policy change,” and on Wednesday, she made only the latter point.

“My priority right now is to  be continuing to work with our members to find that solution,” she said.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said that a 2008 law, combined with the so-called Flores settlement, had “forced this policy.” The 2008 law requires non-Canadian or non-Mexican immigrant minors to be transferred to HHS custody while in immigration proceedings. The Flores Settlement placed a time limit on the DHS detention of children and families. Neither requires systematic family separation.

“This is law, and we want to change the law,” Scalise said.

That’s not true. No law says families must be separated. The Trump administration’s decision to prosecute all border crossers, including parents, resulted in the recent tidal wave of separations.

“We do not support the separation of children and families being broken apart,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said, while refusing to call on Trump to immediately end the policy. The real question, he said, was whether “people want to play politics, or do we want to put people before politics?”

Even if House Republicans’ congressional sprawling answer to family separations is passed Thursday — unlikely, given vocal Democratic opposition to it, and long odds in the Senate — Speaker Ryan had no answers for a reporter who asked what would happen to separated families in the months before it took full affect.

“Your legislation appropriates $7 billion for new family detention centers. But that’s going to take time to build. So what happens until those are built?” she asked. “Has the President guaranteed that if this bill passes, that he would put a pause on [family separations] until you can get your legislation implemented?”

“I would refer you to Kirstjen Nielsen, the [DHS] secretary, she’s talked to us about interim measures,” Ryan said, without explaining further.

And he rejected outright narrow legislation that would stop family separations and do nothing more — confirming that House Republicans would tie the fate of potentially hundreds or thousands more separated families to broader and more controversial legislation on DACA, the long-term DHS detention of families and more.

“We are trying to pass this legislation right now,” Ryan said, asserting later that it was “ridiculous” to accuse congressional Republicans of using family separations as leverage.

Republicans’ unwillingness to pressure Trump to end the family separation policy (only 13 Republican senators have called on the administration to do so while legislation gets hashed out) leaves more and more immigrant families vulnerable to separation, something doctors warn has intense and decades-long mental and physical health consequences for children.

Thousands of immigrant families have been separated at the border since Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy in April, and while Congress negotiates a fix (while Trump refuses to simply undo the policy) the government separated 65 children per day on average from their parents between May 5 and June 9.

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White House deputy chief of staff for operations Joe Hagin is stepping down from that role and exiting the government for the private sector, the White House said Tuesday.

Hagin played a central role in organizing President Donald Trump’s recent summit with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un in Singapore, and prior to serving in the Trump administration was a part of the Regan administration and both Bush administrations.

Reports emerged before the Singapore summit that Hagin was looking to leave the White House and become deputy CIA director, rather than leave government entirely.

BuzzFeed News noted, however, that the resignation came a day after the outlet reported on an unusual client Hagin’s consulting firm took on during the Obama administration, when Hagin had entered the private sector as a cofounder of Command Consulting Group.

The client, a power-hungry Libyan exile named Basit Igtet, was “deeply involved” in a “sex cult” known as NXIVM, BuzzFeed News reported. NXIVM’s leadership was charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy in AprilIgtet’s wife, Sara Bronfman, provided the group tens of millions of dollars, according to the report. “I have nothing to do with the group,” Hagin told BuzzFeed News.

Igtet also reportedly met in 2013, while working with CCG, with the suspected ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attack. An unnamed White House official told BuzzFeed that Hagin “was not aware of any meetings Igtet had had with Abu Khattala,” the publication said. Ahmed Abu Khattala was found guilty last year of four out of 18 counts related to the attack.

CNN reported prior to the Singapore summit that Hagin had in the past “kept sensitive logistical details from Trump” out of fear that the President would tweet about them, according to two unnamed officials.

“Joe Hagin has been a huge asset to my administration,” Trump said in a statement. “He planned and executed the longest and one of the most historic foreign trips ever made by a President, and he did it all perfectly. We will miss him in the office and even more on the road. I am thankful for his remarkable service to our great country.”

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A former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday that the Trump administration “could be creating thousands of immigrant orphans in the U.S.” with its new policy of systematically separating migrant families at the border, NBC News reported.

“I can tell you from experience that it’s more difficult than it sounds,” former ICE Acting Director John Sandweg, who led the agency from 2013 to 2014, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “The parents end up on one track, the child ends up on another track.”

“If they don’t reunite these kids with their parents right away, what can happen is the kids will be stuck here in the United States for years. Guardians will be appointed. And the parent will be down in Honduras or Guatemala with no idea where their child is and no meaningful way to reunite.”

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for people apprehended at the border, including families. As a result, parents are charged criminally and transferred to the custody of U.S. marshals while their children are transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

By now there are several anecdotal examples of families who have been unable to reunite following their separation as a result of the Trump administration’s policy.

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Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed on Tuesday that he did not receive leaked information from an active FBI agent that the bureau would reopen its Hillary Clinton email investigation in October 2016.

Giuliani said that he and former FBI agents knew “by instinct that the New York office was enraged by what Comey had done,” when he was asked on Fox Business Network about his advanced knowledge about the reopening of the Clinton probe.

“I never got a leaked information from any FBI agent,” he said. “I haven’t talked to an on-duty FBI agent, except for background checks, in a couple years. That information he’s talking about came from retired FBI agents who were speculating about what was going to go on.”

In an interview with Giuliani Tuesday morning, Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo showed him video of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asking Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz Monday about Giuliani’s prior knowledge that former FBI Director James Comey would re-open the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Feinstein was referring to a comment Giuliani made before Comey announced that the probe was re-opened that “we’ve got a couple of surprises left.”

After asserting on Tuesday he was never leaked information from an FBI agent, Giuliani said “we knew it would blow up,” referring to himself and former FBI agents he’d spoken to.

“We knew it would blow up. We knew just by instinct that the New York office was enraged by what Comey had done,” he said. “Now you can see that we were right with the Horowitz report. What I was talking about in terms of ‘surprise,’ was a speech we were preparing for the President to give, on the Friday before the election, like Ronald Reagan did. We were going to probably buy it the day before, go on national television, and we were going to hit Hillary on all that stuff, I was as surprised as anyone.”

“The FBI investigated it, closed it, and I showed them documentary evidence of what I am saying,” he added. “Shame on them for not reading their report.”

Giuliani said in November 2016 that he heard about the newly discovered emails that prompted the FBI to re-open its Clinton probe from a “former FBI agent.” In his comments Tuesday, Giuliani reiterated that he spoke with former FBI agents about the matter and introduced the new claim that the former agents were merely speculating.

The comments made by Giuliani in October 2016 are under renewed scrutiny after the Justice Department inspector general’s report revealed that top FBI officials believed that “a fear of leaks influenced the thinking of those who were advising [Comey]” at the time he announced the re-opening of the investigation. Comey acknowledged to the IG that he “consoled” himself that “it would have come out anyway.”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Friday that “good FBI agents” brought to his attention that a laptop from disgraced former former Rep. Anthony Weiner contained emails belonging to Hillary Clinton. Though the emails ultimately proved irrelevant to the probe of Clinton’s private server, the laptop was the basis for the re-opening of the investigation just days before Election Day.

Nunes said the House Intelligence Committee “had that,” referring to information about the laptop, but the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), said Sunday that Nunes didn’t share the FBI agents’ tip with him.

Watch below:

H/t the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake.

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Tuesday said Democrats’ anti-family separation bill would be “better called the Child Trafficking Encouragement Act,” even though the bill includes protections for children suspected to be the victims of trafficking, as has been the practice in the past.

All of the Senate’s 47 Democrats and two independents support Feinstein’s “Keep Families Together Act.”

The short bill prohibits the government “from removing a child from his or her parent or legal guardian, at or near the port of entry or within 100 miles of the border of the United States” unless certain qualifications are met, one of those being if authorities believe “the child is a victim of trafficking or is at significant risk of becoming a victim of trafficking.”

Feinstein spokesperson Ashley Schapitl told TPM that Cotton was wrong: “Senator Feinstein’s legislation bars separation except in the cases of abuse or trafficking,” she said. “If children are being trafficked and child welfare specialists determine that it’s in their best interest to be separated, separation is allowed.”

Prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ April “zero tolerance” prosecution announcement — in which he told U.S. attorneys to prosecute everyone apprehended at the border, leading to a spike in family separations — families were still separated when border agents suspected trafficking.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recognized as much in a press briefing Monday: “We have a long existing policy — multiple administrations have followed — that outline when we may take action to protect children,” she said.

However, the Trump administration’s new policy swept up all families into the same separation process: By charging everyone caught crossing the border with a crime — even those seeking asylum — Sessions essentially erased the difference, in U.S. attorneys’ eyes, between trafficked children and those traveling with families or trusted guardians.

“There may have been some separation [under former President Barack Obama] if there was suspicion that the children were being trafficked or a claimed parent-child relationship did not actually exist,” Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told the Washington Post recently. “But nothing like the levels we are seeing today.”

This post has been updated. 

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President Donald Trump defended his migrant family separation policy on Tuesday by arguing that “only 2000” children had been separated from their families as at the border as a result of the policy.

He appeared to be referencing Department of Homeland Security data for child separations between April 19 and May 31. The actual number is larger than that.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters Monday: “The vast majority, vast, vast majority of children who are in the care of H.H.S. right now — 10,000 of the 12,000 — were sent here alone by their parents. That is when they were separated.”

The Trump administration’s new policy is not simply to arrest everyone caught crossing the border in between ports of entry.

Rather, on April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a formal “zero tolerance” prosecution policy, ordering U.S. attorneys to criminally prosecute everyone apprehended at the border. Because children cannot be placed in criminal detention, the policy has resulted in a spike in children being separated from their parents. Children had been separated from their parents in the months before the April announcement as well, albeit in a less systematic way.

In more tweets Tuesday, Trump urged Congress to change immigration law, even though he or Sessions could immediately end the family separation policy without Congress, and referenced Germany. In reality, contrary to Trump’s tweet, Germany’s overall crime rate is at its lowest since 1992, its interior minister said in May.

Trump also tweeted about the recent Justice Department inspector general’s report on the FBI and DOJ’s behavior ahead of the 2016 elections. The report found that bias did not affect Hillary Clinton ultimately not being charged with a crime, and on Monday, the inspector general re-affirmed to Congress that the report did not look at questions of Russian collusion.

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Republican Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Monday announced their opposition to migrant families being separated at the border, but both avoided criticizing President Donald Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions for their decision to do so, and both used the opportunity to promote legislation that progressive groups said would be a step backward.

Trump or Sessions could immediately end the new policy, but you wouldn’t know it from recent press releases from the Texas senators.

“Cornyn: Families Should be Kept Together at the Border,” read a press release from the senior Texas senator’s office.

But further down in the release, Cornyn said he endorsed the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” prosecution policy, the one thing singularly responsible for the recent spike in migrant family separations at the border.

“The Trump Administration has made a decision to enforce all of our laws by prosecuting adults in criminal court when they’re apprehended crossing our borders illegally,” Cornyn said. “I support that approach.”

Instead, he used the opportunity to promote his HUMANE Act, a 2014 proposal he said he’d reintroduce in light of the separation crisis.

The bill would speed the process for deporting the largely Central American population of migrant children, matching the speed with which the government can currently deport undocumented Mexican and Canadian minors.

“To the greatest extent possible, families presenting at ports of entry or apprehended crossing the border illegally will be kept together while waiting for their court hearings, which will be expedited,” Cornyn said Monday of the legislation.

Cruz, rather than calling on the Trump administration to end its new policy, also used the border crisis to promote his own legislation.

The Cruz bill, according to a press release from his office, would speed up the asylum claims process so that migrant families can be detained together, and possibly quickly deported.

“Legislation to Keep Illegal Immigration Families Together” the Cruz press release read.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday maintained that Congress should tie an effort to end migrant family separation to a host of controversial and complex immigration issues, rather than simply ending the process immediately.

“We want to fix the entire system, we don’t want to just tinker with it,” she said, asked if the White House would support a standalone bill focused only on ending family separation.

The recent spike in migrant family separations on the border is the result of an April memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to U.S. attorneys, telling them to institute a “zero tolerance” policy for prosecuting people apprehended at the border. Minors cannot be held with their parents in criminal detention, so they are treated as “unaccompanied alien children” when their parents are placed in criminal proceedings.

Sessions or Trump could end that new policy immediately, but they so far have not budged.

At a White House press briefing Monday, the Daily Mail’s Francesca Chambers asked: “If the administration is, as it says, not using the children as pawns in this situation, then why not just have Congress pass legislation that narrowly deals with the family separation issue and sign it and then deal with the other aspects of the immigration system that the President wants overhauled at a different time?”

“Once again, we want to fix the entire system,” Sanders responded. “We don’t want to just tinker with it. The President is tired of watching people kick it down the road and not take responsibility and not fix the problems that we have.”

“We’re dealing with this particular situation right now,” Chambers said, contrasting family separations with longer-term immigration reform efforts.

“We’re dealing with a number of situations,” Sanders said. “That is not the only one. We have people flooding over the borders.”

She added: “We want to fix the whole thing. We don’t want to just tinker with one part it. This is a broken system and we’ve got to quit ignoring it. Just ignoring the rule doesn’t fix it, and that’s what this administration is actually trying to do.”

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Defending the Trump administration migrant family separation policy Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asserted that Congress ought to change the law to allow for families to be detained together — even though the President could immediately end the new policy.

Nielsen acknowledged, though, that the administration’s border policy had changed.

“What has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law,” she said.

That was an apparent reference to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” prosecution announcement in April. As a result, because children cannot be held in criminal detention, there has been a subsequent spike in family separations.

Rather than admitting that Sessions or Trump could reverse the policy, though, Nielsen echoed the Trump administration line, that Congress ought to be responsible for changing the law.

“Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible as a matter of law to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States,” she said.

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