The Trump administration said that family separation wasn't its policy and that it couldn't fix the problem itself. Then it gave lie to all of that by reversing the policy.
You would think it would stop barking up this tree, but you'd be wrong.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a new interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, seems to double down on the idea that this was never the intent — although he spoke about separating families a full six weeks ago and even described it as a deterrent to potential future illegal immigration.
CBN's David Brody asked Sessions about the “media narrative out there has been that Trump administration is caving to pressure — that these optics have not been good for the administration.”
Here's Sessions's response (emphasis added):
It hasn’t been good, and the American people don’t like the idea that we are separating families. We never really intended to do that. What we intended to do was to make sure that adults who bring children into the country are charged with the crime they've committed. Instead of giving that special group of adults immunity from prosecution, which is what, in effect, what we were doing. So I think it’s the right thing. We’ll work our way through it and try to do it in the most compassionate way possible.
But Sessions has long acknowledged that the Justice Department's "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal immigration would lead to increased family separations. He said May 7: “If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally. It's not our fault.”
And earlier this week, Sessions said on a Fox News appearance that family separation could be used as a deterrent. “Yes, hopefully people will get the message and come through the border at the port of entry and not break across the border unlawfully.”
It's clear the point he's trying to make: The family separation wasn't the specific goal here but that it was more of an unfortunate side effect and perhaps a means to an end. The real goal was border security and avoiding what was viewed as a loophole that prevented parents from being prosecuted if they brought their kids with them.
But just as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was really stretching when she said this wasn't the administration's policy, Sessions is being too cute by half here. The administration — and Sessions himself — made clear very early on that its zero-tolerance immigration policy now required these families to be separated, regardless of what the overriding goal was. They knew this is what would be happening and elected to go down this road anyway. Initially, they insisted they had no choice; now with Trump's executive order, they've tacitly but unmistakably admitted that they did and that they chose wrong.
It may be time to stop pretending otherwise. The practical difference is basically nil.