- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday said Sen. Elizabeth Warren was wrong when she said in Tuesday’s debate that President Trump is using the criminal code to separate families seeking to cross the U.S. southern border.

“I tried to correct the record, but wasn’t recognized to do this: Senator Warren mistakenly said that Donald Trump is using the criminal code to separate families and to cage kids and to visit this cruelty and inhumanity on our fellow human beings, and that’s just not right,” Mr. O’Rourke said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“You can use the civil code, the criminal code, or you could just look to one of the cruelest, most inhumane presidents that we’ve ever had,” said Mr. O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas. “That’s the problem that we have right now. It’s not an immigration law that’s been on the books for decades.”

Mr. O’Rourke added, though, that he planned to rewrite current law so that no one seeking asylum or refuge would ever be criminally prosecuted.

Ms. Warren said during the debate that the “criminalization statute” is giving Mr. Trump the ability “to take children away from their parents” and “to lock people up at our borders.”

The situation is more complex than either Democrat suggested.

It was the criminal code that the Trump administration was citing as the reason for separations during last year’s “zero tolerance” policy, which saw several thousand children separated. But separations have continued even after zero tolerance ended.

Before zero tolerance, only about one in five illegal immigrants was prosecuted for illegal entry, a misdemeanor, or illegal reentry, a felony — and almost all of them were single adults. As the surge of illegal immigrant families grew last year, the administration announced parents with children would no longer be exempt, and prosecutions rose to about half of illegal entrants, according to Homeland Security.

But because the criminal justice system doesn’t have jails or prisons for families, children were separated from their parents.

The zero tolerance policy was ended in June 2018 after a massive public outcry.

Still, in the year since, another 900 children have been separated for other reasons beyond criminal prosecution for illegal immigration, according to a new court filing this week. Those reasons include parents’ health issues or perceived danger to their children.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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