During an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Mr. Trump suggested that his heartless policy had continued practices in place under the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, among others. In contrast to his predecessors, Mr. Trump said, “we’ve been on a humane basis . . . we go out and stop the separations,” he said. “The problem is you have 10 times as many people coming up with their families. It’s like Disneyland now.”
In fact, the “zero tolerance” policy was formulated (with White House approval) by Mr. Trump’s then- attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The policy mandated automatic imprisonment for undocumented adult asylum seekers apprehended at the border, meaning migrant children would be seized from their parents’ custody and transferred for placements scattered around the country by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Several thousand parents and children were left with no means of contacting each other and no documents to facilitate their eventual reunification. It was an act of singular cruelty by an administration that has not shied from demonstrating malice toward migrants.
Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Bush prosecuted policies remotely similar to Mr. Trump’s. While families were occasionally separated before Mr. Trump entered office, it was generally when there was reason to believe the parents posed a threat to their children. And when the Justice Department announced what it called a “new” policy that separated families a year ago, officials justified it as a response to a surge in undocumented Central American migrants crossing the border.
The resulting national uproar forced Mr. Trump’s about-face, which he now seems to regret. During the interview Sunday, he called the policy’s revocation a “disaster” and blamed it for what he called a tenfold increase in migrant families apprehended after crossing the border. In fact, the increase has been closer to sixfold, which is bad enough — and at least partly a testament to the panic among Central American migrants seeking to enter the country before Mr. Trump fixes on some new draconian course of action.
In the meantime, the damage caused by the policy of separation persists. In court papers filed this month, the administration said it hoped it would take no more than six more months to identify the remaining children and match them with their parents — but said it could take as long as two years. Thus has the administration fused inhumanity with incompetence.