Throughout the political world, there is growing outrage over the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy on the Mexican border, which has led to the forced separation of families and the detainment of thousands of minors in facilities throughout the South. The Associated Press described kids in one facility in South Texas waiting “in a series of cages” under overhead lighting that “stays on around the clock.” According to the AP, one cage held 20 children.
It’s not just Democrats who have been criticizing the policy. Several Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and First Lady Melania Trump, have expressed concerns about the controversial policy of separating kids from their parents. Former first lady Laura Bush, in a rare public rebuke of the current administration, called the policy “cruel” and “immoral,” comparing it to the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Even former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who has been a supporter of many of President Trump’s policies, called the practice “unacceptable.”
The Trump administration will not win on this one and it should reverse course today.
— Bill O'Reilly (@BillOReilly) June 18, 2018
But if you are a viewer of Fox & Friends, the most-viewed cable morning program and often watched by the president, you’d come away with the incorrect belief that there is nothing unusual going on at the border.
“The way it is right now, and it’s pretty clear, is if you come into the country illegally with children, they will separate you because you’re about to go through criminal proceedings,” co-host Steve Doocy said. “However, if you knock on the door and you say, ‘I’m here with my family or these children to seek asylum’ you will not be separated from the children.”
Fox & Friends highlighted a series of tweets written Sunday by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, where she incorrectly claimed, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” “DHS Secy Nielsen sets the record straight” is how the show’s official Twitter account promoted her comments.
DHS Secy Nielsen sets the record straight, saying there is no ‘policy of separating families at the border’ pic.twitter.com/vY8VRUP5Ux
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 18, 2018
Nielsen’s statements on Twitter, however, have been widely criticized by both Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the no-tolerance police back in April, issuing a memorandum to Nielsen that said filing criminal charges against migrants, including parents traveling with children, would be the “most effective” way to deter illegal border crossings. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from adults between April 19 and the end of May, and Nielsen herself defended the policy Monday morning.
“We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are, in fact, a family,” Nielsen said. “We will not apologize for doing our job.”
According to reporters on the ground, asylum seekers are also being turned back in cities like El Paso and other ports of entry along the Mexican border. According to the Washington Post, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers don’t tell migrants they can’t apply for asylum, just that “they can’t apply right now because the port of entry is at capacity.” This forces asylum seekers to cross at other points along the border, leading to their arrest and the break-up of families.
During an interview Monday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, laughed when asked about Nielsen’s statement.
“There’s different elements of the government that don’t really understand what’s going on. Kids are being separated from their parents,” Hurd told host Steve Inskeep. “Taking kids from their mothers is not preventing terrorists or drugs from coming into out country. Why we would think it’s a tool that’s needed to protect our borders is insane to me.”
Though Fox & Friends is an opinion show, what’s said on the program matters. The program has an audience in the millions, and Trump is a loyal viewer who often shares clips and quotes from the show on his social media accounts.
Doocy, who equated the forced-separation policy at the border to what would happen to a bank robber with kids being arrested, also disagreed with the suggestion that children were being kept in cages, despite first-hand accounts by reporters and photos and videos released by Customs and Border Protection showing just that.
BREAKING: Border Patrol @CBP just gave us this video of the detention facility we toured yesterday in McAllen, Texas. We weren't allowed to bring in cameras, or interview anyone. To be clear: this is government handout video. pic.twitter.com/Zjy80qIZFZ
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 18, 2018
“This is a great, big warehouse facility where they built walls out of chain link fences,” Doocy said. Later in the program, he said, “I’m from a farm community… I see the chain-link fences, it’s more like a security pen to me.”
CBS This Morning’s Gayle King hosted Monday’s show from outside one of the government’s facilities in McAllen, Texas, where she said Customs and Border Protection was uncomfortable with the network’s decision to refer to the holding cells as “cages,” even though they admitted it was accurate.
“They said it’s not inaccurate, but they’re very uncomfortable with using the word cages,” King reported. “They said they may be cages, but they’re not being treated like animals.”
This just in from @davidbegnaud: Border Patrol has reached out to @cbsthismorning and said they are "very uncomfortable" with the use of the word cages. They say it's not inaccurate and added that they may be cages but people are not being treated like animals. pic.twitter.com/0zSDqJszgK
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) June 18, 2018
On Fox & Friends, Doocy also claimed that the forced separation of families “has been the law of the land of the United States of America for many years,” without mentioning the Trump administration’s abrupt change in policy in May or how it differs from previous administrations. In 2005, the Bush administration began a program called Operation Streamline that referred all illegal immigrants for prosecution, but made exceptions for adults traveling with children. The Obama administration employed a similar approach, but detained families together rather then separating them at the border.
“We’ve had a shelter system for years,” Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama, told CBS News. “What’s different now is that this administration is choosing to separate children from their parents.”
Many Republicans, including former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, openly admit that Trump could easily end the practice if he wanted.
“We all know the president can do that, he has the executive power to do that,” Scaramucci said on CNN’s New Day. “So let’s knock it off, because it’s very very bad for the Republican party, and it’s very bad for the president.”