On his way to Marine One, the president blew the White House PR offensive trying to protect him from the consequences of his disastrous zero-tolerance immigration policy by pretending the lost babies are an unintended consequence of enforcing an otherwise valid immigration policy, not the purpose of it.
Refusing to acknowledge problems in reuniting families, Trump revealed why he tore them apart in the first place: as a deterrent, and don’t forget it.
“Tell people not to come to our country illegally,” he shouted as he headed off to Europe to slap down our NATO allies and backslap our Russian enemy. “That’s the solution. Don’t come to our country illegally.”
In fact, it’s not asylum seekers acting illegally. It’s Trump with his disgraceful violation of the Refugee Act of 1980, which codified America’s long practice of offering asylum to those facing persecution and death in their home countries.
It’s true that there should be more judges to process the increased number of asylum seekers from Central America fleeing all-too-real members of the MS-13 gang there. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s call for them to apply in their own countries first is right. The law says they have to take the expensive, dangerous trip to set foot in America before they can ask for asylum, and then jump through various hoops to get it. More than 60 percent of those who take the risk and jump through those hoops do not receive it.
Trump tries to keep them from crossing into the U.S. by deploying agents at ports of entry inside Mexico, forcing them to cross elsewhere. No matter where they cross, they’re all illegal to Trump. He wants to teach them, and anyone else thinking about escaping, what hell awaits them. On Twitter, which is like his Federal Register, Trump wrote:
“When people, with or without children, enter our Country, they must be told to leave without our Country being forced to endure a long and costly trial. Tell the people ‘OUT,’ and they must leave, just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn.”
That’s the real Trump his staff tries to tamp down. But when he’s full of himself, he blithely reveals his real motives, as he did when he proudly told NBC’s Lester Holt that, sure, he fired James Comey to rid himself of the Russia investigation.
Trump did the same as he went off to Brussels, riding high on the prospect of soon having five men on the Supreme Court to deny women legal abortions, and over the arrival of Bill Shine, pushed out of Fox News for enabling more than $50 million in payments to sexually harassed women. It’s like having bestie Sean Hannity down the hall.
Separating children from their parents would still be going on if, take your pick — the first lady, Ivanka, the usually spineless Republicans in the Senate — hadn’t gone limp at pictures of sad children in wire cages guarded by uniformed men in watchtowers or stories of babies being sent who knows where to later to show up at a hearing crying, well, like babies.
Trump’s making a lot of people rich. A major defense contractor, paid $248 million to transport immigrants since 2014, kept dozens of children for three weeks in a vacant Phoenix office building with darkened windows, no kitchen, and only a few toilets. They denied everything until presented with pictures.
Trump was mostly alone in sticking with his original decision except for the encouragement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and aide Stephen Miller, who threw away $80 worth of sushi, his appetite ruined, when someone at a take-out restaurant didn’t treat him with the required civility.
Even when Trump changed his mind and walked back his zero-tolerance and zero-humanity approach, he wouldn’t admit he was changing his mind. He nonsensically blamed his own policy on Democrats and made a show of signing an unnecessary executive order to end his own actions.
The reversal set off a Kafkaesque list of possible, although not probable, ways to see your son or daughter again: finding the money to pay for a DNA test the government won’t necessarily provide, paying a bail bondsman $10,000 to get released from detention to take a bus to search for your family, or signing a document agreeing to give up your claim of asylum and go home — nothing less than government-sanctioned blackmail.
The White House is trying to divert our attention from Trump’s overdue move to stem the massive detention of innocent children to a reality show about their heroic efforts. The show is less like "Lost" meets the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand than it is "Titanic", starring iceberg Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The lead is now being played by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Burdened by a bad script, he’s improvising a B story, putting out how he stayed up all night in the department’s dark secure Operations Center to guide the “most well-meaning, altruistic individuals” ever assembled to perform “one of the great, great acts of American generosity and charity, what we are doing for these unaccompanied kids who are smuggled into our country or come across illegally.”
That’s a trifecta of lies — “unaccompanied,” “smuggled,” and “illegally” crossing — that the boss couldn’t have told better. Although Azar won’t let cameras or members of Congress inside, he asks us to trust him that these orphanages run by his altruistic staff would make Mother Teresa proud.
To read The New York Times story about one of those babies wriggling out of her mother’s arms after a four-month separation and asking for the social worker who’d cared for her is to get a glimmer of the lifetime of sorrow Trump’s unleashed, only a fraction of which we’ve seen.
Azar missed one judge-imposed deadline for reuniting babies and toddlers. With its usual hyperbole, the Trump administration tweeted late Wednesday that it "anticipates all migrant children under 5, who are eligible, to be reunified with parents by Thursday morning." That may be hanging a great deal on the phrase "who are eligible.".
Azar previously claimed that everyone was wrong to accuse Trump of scattering children hither and yon across the country with no way to find them, and that he could unite any child with any parent in seconds “with a keystroke.”
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.