Trump’s Child Separation Policy Intended to ‘Inflict Hardship’

By Shani Saxon Oct 09, 2020

The New York Times reported on Tuesday (October 6) that in May 2018, five U.S. attorneys based near the Mexican border said they were “deeply concerned” after hearing the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) order to “prosecute all undocumented immigrants even if it meant separating children from their parents.” 

Columnist Jennifer Rubin responded to the Times article—which features details about the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" family separation policy, revealed in a draft report from DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz— with an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Thursday (October 8). Horowitz’s report, Rubin noted, showed that the Trump administration wasn’t cruel as an unfortunate side effect of its family separation policy. Instead, “cruelty was the point,” she wrote. “Policy decisions are not made despite consequences for vulnerable people; they are made with the intent to inflict hardship so as to serve administration objectives.”

The attorney general in 2018, Jeff Sessions, clarified what the president intended during a conference call with prosecutors after U.S. attorneys expressed their concerns about the separation policy, according to The Times. “We need to take away children,” Sessions said, according to participants’ notes as reported by The Times. One participant wrote in shorthand, “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”

According to The Times:

Rod J. Rosenstein, then the deputy attorney general, went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants. 

Sessions tried to distance himself from the policy amid global backlash, Horowitz wrote in the draft report of his investigation. Trump and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials mostly took the blame, according to Horowitz, as reported by The Times. However, Sessions and “other top law enforcement officials understood that ‘zero tolerance’ meant that migrant families would be separated and wanted that to happen because they believed it would deter future illegal immigration,” The Times reported. 

“If anyone in the administration bothered to pick up a history book, they might have figured out that it would have been better to quit than to carry out such immoral policies,” Rubin wrote in her opinion piece. She added that Horowitz’s revelations “leave the impression that Sessions and Rosenstein were not only cruel but also cowardly. If they believed in the policy, why not claim ownership? Why deny there was a policy or shift blame to the Department of Homeland Security?”

Rubin wrote:

Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, tells me, “This report shows a complete lack of any moral leadership at the senior levels of the department. Even now, Rod Rosenstein is hiding behind a flimsy bureaucratic excuse to justify his role in a policy that was pure evil.” Miller adds, “The stain left by this horrific policy should follow everyone involved for the rest of their lives.” 

The Times report, Rubin wrote, represents “just another piece of the picture of a Justice Department that has lost its way. Overrun by ideologues and lacking the professional and moral spine to push back on orders that undermined the rule of law, too many lawyers cooperated with or failed to ring the alarm as Sessions, Rosenstein and later Attorney General William P. Barr (who further politicized the Justice Department in spinning the Mueller report and intervening in the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases) misrepresented their work, acted as the president’s private attorneys and refused to uphold the finest traditions of the department.”

“If elected,” Rubin concluded, “Biden will need an attorney general willing to take this on, mete out appropriate discipline and then rebuild the Justice Department’s reputation.”

“Right now,” she added, “it is a disgraced and broken organization.”