- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Administration officials delivered a vehement defense Tuesday of President Trump’s attempts to blame Democrats for putting children at risk in the immigration process, saying the party’s lawmakers in Washington are blocking the kinds of changes needed to stem the flow of children and families.

They were doing a bit of cleanup after Mr. Trump over the weekend blamed Democrats for preserving laws he said forced separation of children from their parents.

What Mr. Trump is trying to do is build detention space and change the law and court rulings so that illegal immigrant parents and children can be held together until their deportation hearings, officials said. The goal, they said, is to remove the incentive that entices people to bring children with them when they jump the border, counting on lax treatment and a quick release from custody.

“If people care about stopping child smuggling, they’ll close the loopholes. We cannot have an immigration system where you get a free pass if you smuggle a child,” said Stephen Miller, a top adviser to Mr. Trump and one of the key drivers of immigration policy within this White House.

The immigration debate has grown muddled in recent days, fueled by inexact comments from Mr. Trump, hyperbolic statements from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights activists, and inexact reporting in the press.

In its worst form, Democrats blamed the Trump administration for a photo showing children in immigration detention sleeping on the floor behind chain-link fencing — a photo that seems to actually date from 2014, when the Obama administration was struggling to deal with the first surge of Unaccompanied Alien Children and families.

Meanwhile, press reports accused the administration of having “lost” nearly 1,500 children of which it was given custody.

But the administration says those are children it had to release to parents or other sponsors in compliance with a series of court agreements. At that point, the children are no longer in custody of the government, and what happens to them is up to the parents or other sponsors, officials say.

Social workers do try to do a follow-up call 30 days after the children are placed — a follow-up which they are not required to make, the officials stress — and in many of those cases the sponsors refuse to talk or say they no longer have the children. Those are the “lost” UAC.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, confused matters over the weekend when he urged voters to “put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic.] parents once they cross the border into U.S.”

In practice, it’s a court settlement that limits how long Homeland Security can hold children nabbed at the border. A federal judge says children must be released in about 20 days — and if they came with a parent, the parent should also be released, the judge urged.

Mr. Miller, the White House adviser, said that creates an incentive for illegal immigrants to bring children, in some cases even unrelated children, to appear at the border as families and take advantage of that more lenient treatment.

He said Congress must approve more detention beds and change policies that push for quick release, saying that if people can be held they can be deported when a judge says so.

“As it stands right now we are nearing capacity in all aspects of our detention and bed space,” he said.

Democrats, though, counter that they’re talking about a different family separation. They say the administration’s new policy of pursuing criminal charges against illegal immigrants throws them into the jail system, where their children are unable to follow.

Immigrant-rights activists argue that Mr. Trump should stop prosecuting migrants for illegally sneaking into the U.S., which would reduce the level of family separation.

“What is happening with the children of immigrant families in our country is a crisis of massive proportions, only comparable to what happens during wars, violent conflicts or cruel dictatorships,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of National Domestic Workers, an activist group. “This administration needs to be held accountable for disappearing and abusing thousands of immigrant children and youth, and all practices that separate them from their families must be stopped immediately.”

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