- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It was another case of President Trump taking action because of disturbing images of children on TV.

Mr. Trump signed a hastily drawn-up executive order Wednesday to stop border authorities from separating illegal immigrant children from their parents, less than 24 hours after he defended his administration’s policy of splitting up families.

The president acknowledged that he had viewed TV images Wednesday morning of distraught children taken away from their parents, as well as TV footage from 2014 of forlorn unaccompanied minor children captured at the border during the Obama administration.

“Those images affect everybody,” he said.

The abrupt action was reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s decision in April 2017 to hold Syria’s military accountable for a deadly chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, including small children who were shown on TV foaming at the mouth with lips turning blue.

“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “My attitude toward Syria and [President Bashar] Assad has changed very much. … You’re now talking about a whole different level.”

He responded by ordering a cruise missile attack on Syrian forces.

Mr. Trump’s abrupt reversal on family separation wasn’t surprising given his soft spot for children and visceral reaction to photographs of children in peril, said a source close to the president.

“He is very family-oriented. You see how he is with his kids,” said the source. “He saw how [the policy] was shaking out and he didn’t like it anymore, so he’s doing the executive order.”

Mr. Trump couldn’t shut out the photographs of children crying or sleeping under emergency thermal blankets in chain-link pens. The images edged out White House officials who were convinced Democrats were hypocritically overplaying their hand, which started with attacks on the policy based on photos of illegal immigrant children in cages that were taken during the Obama administration.

The televised images of traumatized children at the Mexican border this week also affected first lady Melania Trump, and the president’s daughter, Ivanka, both of whom pushed Mr. Trump privately to change course and keep migrant families together.

Ivanka Trump also spoke to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, both Republicans.

“She offered the president her support, and she said she would talk to any member of Congress to help find a legislative solution to the issue,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told CNN.

Mrs. Trump issued a rare statement on Sunday saying that she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”

“She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart,” the statement said.

Heart was a subject that the president mentioned several times Wednesday in explaining his uncharacteristic retreat, his first high-profile surrender that came surprisingly on the all-important issue of border security.

“Ivanka feels very strongly, my wife feels very strongly about it, I feel very strongly about it,” the president said. “I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

As he signed the order, Mr. Trump sought to emphasize that his administration still will take a zero-tolerance policy against illegal immigrants and will prosecute all who cross the border illegally.

” I think the word ‘compassion’ comes into it, but it’s still equally as tough, if not tougher,” he said.

Democrats and advocacy groups took credit for forcing Mr. Trump to back down with a forceful pressure campaign that highlighted the emotional trauma of children as young as toddlers being taken from their parents. They asserted that a price would be paid in the midterm elections, as evidenced by the numerous Republican lawmakers who also urged the administration to change its policy.

“We showed that the goodness of the American people can prevail in dark times,” said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition. “We were able to force President Donald Trump to end the inhumane policy of ripping apart children from their parents.”

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Mr. Trump shouldn’t get credit for addressing a problem that he created.

“This is the president who once boasted that he alone can solve America’s problems, then claimed his hands were tied as young children were placed behind chain-link fences,” she said. “Make no mistake: The president crammed our nation’s highest ideals and values into a shredder. He does not get credit for taping them back together.”

The president said he was grappling with the dilemma of enforcing border security without mistreating children, who are often mistreated by smugglers.

“If you’re really, really, pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people,” Mr. Trump said. “And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I’d rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.”

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