When it comes to immigration, separating families and locking migrant children in cages are just some of the accusations lodged against the Trump administration. But how much of this had been going on before President Donald Trump took office? Is he really responsible for separating children from parents and detaining them in horrible conditions? To the uninformed sheep consumers of mainstream media, the answer would be a resounding yes. As with any story, there are at least three sides: yours, mine, and the truth. So, let’s get to the facts and unravel them from the fiction.
Trump vs. Obama
Democrats condemn the Trump administration for its immigration detention centers, comparing them to concentration camps, with migrants forced to drink toilet water. The Dems’ list of atrocities is unending. While it’s true that in some cases conditions are not ideal, only so much can be done in the face of an overwhelming swarm of migrants crossing our borders daily.
Former President Barack Obama didn’t have an easy time of it either. In fact, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Obama warned immigrants not to bring their children because there were not enough facilities and provisions. He said:
“Our message absolutely is don’t send your children unaccompanied, on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. We don’t even know how many of these kids don’t make it, and may have been waylaid into sex trafficking or killed because they fell off a train.
“Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”
Obama had detention centers and took other steps as well that would have had Trump critics slavering at the mouth in outrage. Obama fought to block efforts to require unaccompanied children to have legal representation and barred detained mothers with children from being released on bond. Numbers USA’s Chris Chmielenski, the director of content and activism, said the Obama administration was “under incredible pressure” not to hold families. He also said because the administration didn’t fight hard enough for immigration control, “It’s part of the reason we are in the position we are in [today].”
In 2015, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration referring to the detention centers as “hieleras,” or “iceboxes.” It further accused Customs and Border Patrol of perpetuating “appalling conditions” in which immigrants were living in “freezing, overcrowded, and filthy cells for extended periods of time, no access to beds, soap, showers, adequate meals and water, medical care, and lawyers in violation of constitutional standards and Border Patrol’s own policies.”
USA Today wrote a story featuring Pedro Chilel Ramirez, who was 17 years old when he migrated to the US in 2014. He said he’d spent a month sleeping on the floor in a cold room and that his back had hurt for two years afterward. “It was horrible, just horrible,” Ramirez said about his experience in the Obama-era detention center. “It was so cold. They didn’t let us outside. We were only inside all day.”
The number of detained immigrants during the Obama administration ranged between 30,000 and 40,000 per day. In comparison, last year the average number under Trump was nearly 46,000 and growing steadily. This fiscal year, more than 33,600 people so far have been booked into family detention centers.
When it comes to deportations, Trump falls short of the record, even with his Zero Tolerance policy. More deportations were ordered under the Obama administration than Trump’s so far. “Obama has the distinction of overseeing more deportations than any prior president. According to numbers from ICE, total deportations under Obama hit a high in 2012 with 409,849 removals, and a low in 2015 and 2016, when the numbers dipped below 250,000.”
Under Trump in 2017, the number of removals was 226,119; in 2018, it rose to 256,085; as of June 2019, it was 282,242.
In June 2018, the courts ordered the end to child separation from parents. So Trump insisted federal officials stop separating families and said the “policy of this Administration [is] to maintain family unity,” unless a parent is determined to be a risk to the child. This is the sticky area where Dems and Republicans argue: Trump claims credit for ending child-parent separation while the Democrats say he is falsely claiming responsibility.
However, Obama and Trump are not the only presidents to detain immigrants; the process has been going on for centuries. Former President Bill Clinton signed laws in 1994 that introduced mandatory detentions for asylum seekers and legal immigrants who had committed crimes, indefinite detention, and additional spending on enforcement, according to the Marshall Project. At that time, the daily population in detention tripled from 1994 to 20,000 at the end of his second term. After 9/11, former President George W. Bush further cracked down on immigration and ended a 2005 policy that permitted those caught crossing the border to be released until their court dates. As the US population grows and more immigrants migrate to America, facilities and provisions become harder to procure to accommodate such masses. Presidents must adjust to continue to protect and secure our borders.