A Legislative Fix to Trump’s Family Separation Policy Is Impossible

Trump is using his family separation policy in much the same way that he used the Dreamers. He’s basically saying that he has sympathy for the families—just as he pretended to have sympathy for the Dreamers—and that the problem can be fixed if only Democrats would agree to his xenophobic demands on immigration.

I’ve seen several pundits suggest that the president is holding these families hostage in order to get funding for his wall. That is incorrect. Both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the bipartisan group of legislators who worked on a compromise offered funding for Trump’s wall in exchange for deportation relief for the Dreamers. Trump rejected those offers because they didn’t go far enough.

Here are the so-called “pillars” the president has insisted upon:

  1. Border security, which includes funding for the wall, more funding for border patrol and closing loopholes that result in so-called “catch & release”
  2. Ending the family visa program
  3. Ending the visa lottery program

The important thing to keep in mind about the current zero-tolerance policy is that it is what this administration adopted as a way to close the loopholes that led to “catch and release.” That phrase was always a misnomer. In the past, first-time offenders of illegal entry and those requesting asylum were released while awaiting the resolution of their cases in court. Now they are being detained, prosecuted and separated from their children.

Back when it was the Dreamers who were being held hostage, Dara Lind described the administration’s demands.

Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, as well as influential Republicans like Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), have stressed that border security also needs to include statutory changes that would make it harder for people to pursue asylum cases after entering the US and reduce special protections for families and unaccompanied children crossing the border. Because children and families from Central America make up an increasing share of border apprehensions, they see deterring those immigrants as an important security measure.

Obviously, the administration’s zero tolerance policy is the way they decided to deter both family migrants and asylum-seekers.

Did you catch the circular logic (or illogic) that is going on here? The administration implemented a policy and the president is now claiming to sympathize with those who are being hurt by it.  He blames the Democrats and insists that they meet his demands, which will simply codify the policy he has put in place.

That is why Democrats must refuse to negotiate any legislative fixes to the family separation policy. Instead, they should do two things:

  1. Demand that the Trump administration end it’s family separation policy, and
  2. Propose the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform package that was developed in 2013, which contained both stronger border security and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Trump has already demonstrated during the debate over a legislative fix to DACA that his administration isn’t willing to negotiate in good faith. They simply make demands and dig in their heels. Attempting a compromise on this question is not only dangerous for the families that will be affected, it is futile.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.