A report published by the New York Times yesterday lays plain the roots of Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” immigration policy responsible for separating at least 2,814 children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 1,000 of those children were younger than 10, and around 105 of those children were under five years old.
Amid public outcry, Trump revoked this policy on June 20, 2018. Despite its short operation of less than two months, though, much damage was done: children remained separated from parents for months afterward. NBC reports that officials said there was “no plan” to track and reunite children separated from their families. Hundreds of parents are still unreachable, attorneys say.
The NYT story includes information from a draft report of an investigation carried out by Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, and connects the dots between these new findings and already published information.
Former Attorney general Jeff Sessions is quoted in the piece as having told prosecutors, “We need to take away children.” But Sessions didn’t act alone in this heartless strategy.
From the NYT piece:
“Though Mr. Sessions sought to distance himself from the policy, allowing Mr. Trump and Homeland Security Department officials to largely be blamed, he and other top law enforcement officials understood that “zero tolerance” meant that migrant families would be separated and wanted that to happen because they believed it would deter future illegal immigration, Mr. Horowitz wrote.”
Expect to hear more soon, however, as the report was a preliminary one. For now, we’ve gathered a rundown of some of the officials responsible for what the ACLU has said is “one of the cruelest immigration practices in the history of our country.”
Rod J. Rosenstein, former Deputy Attorney General
This is the man who stressed that, in response to government lawyers who declined to prosecute cases involving two very young children, age should not be a consideration.
The NYT report states that he told these lawyers they “should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.”
John Bash, former U.S. attorney in western Texas
This is a government lawyer who initially turned down cases involving very young children. After a chat with Rosenstein, however, he fell into line: “Per the A.G.’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child,” Bash wrote in a staff memo originally reported by The Guardian.
Stephen Miller, senior political adviser to President Trump
Dubbed “the architect of the president’s assault on immigration,” Miller also played a role in the Muslim ban and the effort to end DACA. He has been characterized as xenophobic, and called a white nationalist, based on his sharing of links online, his work for conservative site Breitbart, and other facts compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Gene Hamilton, Justice Department lawyer, former counselor to Homeland Security
While described by CNN as a top immigration policy expert, Hamilton claims he was simply following orders—but evidence of Spring 2018 email discussions with Miller about imply a more active role. He helped identify statutes to support “restrictionist goals,” including using civil penalty fees to fund border wall construction. (More on this here.)
Kirstjen Nielsen, former homeland security secretary
She was reluctant to “refer all families for persecution” at first, according to the report, voting against the policy in a May 2018 meeting with the president’s most senior advisers, led by Sessions. (She was outvoted.)
Nielsen warned of a lack of resources: children would likely end up in the custody of the already strained Health and Human Services. NBC reported in August that Nielsen worried then that “the process could get messy and children could get lost in an already clogged system.”
But soon Nielsen recanted, at least in terms of actual policy. According to NBC, she signed a memo within days “instructing DHS personnel to prosecute all migrants crossing the border illegally, including parents arriving with their children.”