On September 8, I began my analysis of the Biden administration’s September 7 spending request, in which the president is asking Congress for more money or to move money around to pay for certain federal programs. Perhaps the most shocking item is Biden’s request to take money from accounts that pay ICE and Border Patrol agents for what he terms “costs related to the reunification of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021”.
The dates coincide with Donald Trump’s presidency. In essence, Biden wants to “reunify” in the United States all adults who entered this country illegally at the Southwest border with the children who accompanied them in “family units” (FMUs), and who were separated for various reason by DHS under Trump. And give them lawyers, housing, and pocket money.
“Family separation” was a big talking point for then-candidate Joe Biden on the campaign trail. He promised to “prioritize the reunification of any children still separated from their families” if he were elected.
It was essentially the only Biden immigration position that the media paid attention to because (1) Trump had a horrible time explaining it; (2) it was the one immigration issue most easily demagogued by a press that, largely and objectively, favored the former vice president over the incumbent; and (3) the press really did not understand it.
Here’s proof of that media bias. As I explained in October, it was only at the end of the second and last presidential debate that immigration was mentioned at all. The first “question” on the topic, from NBC News’ Kristen Welker and directed at Trump, read as follows:
Mr. President, your administration separated children from their parents at the border, at least 4,000 kids, You've since reversed your zero tolerance policy, but the United States can't locate the parents of more than 500 children. So how will these families ever be reunited?
I put “question” in quotes, because (again objectively) that was less of an inquiry than an indictment of Trump’s policy. Any reasonable question on the issue would have been nuanced, but even then, any reasonable response would take much longer than the two minutes Trump was given (my analysis took over 1,700 words, or about 10 minutes of speech).
In any event, I analyzed the issue of “family separations” at the Southwest border under the Trump administration in May. As I explained therein, the “zero tolerance” Welker referred to was a DOJ policy announced on April 6, 2018, by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions under which all adult migrants who entered illegally were to be criminally prosecuted for that offense under section 275(a) of the INA.
That policy was implemented because the number of illegal migrants in FMUs who were apprehended by Border Patrol at the Southwest border had risen from 1,126 in March 2017 to 8,875 by March 2018 — an almost 700 percent increase in one year.
As a bipartisan federal panel tasked with assessing the issue of family units at the border found in April 2019:
Migrant children are traumatized during their journey to and into the U.S. The journey from Central America through Mexico to remote regions of the U.S. border is a dangerous one for the children involved, as well as for their parent. There are credible reports that female parents of minor children have been raped, that many migrants are robbed, and that they and their child are held hostage and extorted for money.
That panel explained: “In too many cases, children are being used as pawns by adult migrants and criminal smuggling organizations solely to gain entry into the United States”.
As a result of zero tolerance, adults who entered illegally in family units went to DOJ custody (briefly) for prosecution. Under a 2008 law limiting their detention in DHS custody, however, the children in those family units became “unaccompanied” and were sent to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services for placement with a sponsor in the United States. That’s when the “separation” occurred.
Zero tolerance was poorly implemented, and quickly became a PR disaster for the administration. Consequently, President Trump ended it in an executive order captioned “Affording Congress an Opportunity To Address Family Separation” on June 20, 2018 — just 75 days after Sessions’ announcement.
Many Reasons for “Family Separation”
“Zero tolerance” and “family separation” were linked in the media (and consequently in the popular imagination) thereafter. Children in FMUs, however, were separated from parents both before and after zero tolerance, and for several legitimate reasons that had nothing to do with prosecuting the adults for illegal entry.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported in February that between 5,300 and 5,500 children in family units were separated from adults under the Trump administration (one of its calculations pinpoints the number as 5,349 between the March 2017 start of a zero tolerance pilot and November 30, 2020), but according to CRS, only 2,816 were separated during the brief period in which “zero tolerance” was in effect.
It explained that “almost all” of those children who were separated under zero tolerance “have since been reunited with their parents or placed in alternative custodial arrangements.”
Nonetheless, according to CRS, “[a]s of December 2020, a steering committee assembled to locate” children separated before and after zero tolerance “had not yet established contact with the parents of 628 children.”
With respect to the reasons that such separations occurred, CRS reports that in FY 2017, for example, CBP separated 1,065 families: 46 due to fraud and 1,019 due to medical and “security” concerns (including danger to the child and other criminal activity by the adult). In FY 2018, prior to Sessions’ zero-tolerance announcement, 703 families were separated: 191 because of fraud and 512 for medical or security concerns.
There were also 927 children separated from adults in FMUs in 2019, and 40 in the first 11 months of FY 2020. It is not clear from the CRS report why those separations occurred, but “zero tolerance” was plainly not the reason.
In May, the Biden administration announced that it would begin reuniting adults separated from children by DHS under the Trump administration with children in the United States. If, as CRS has reported, most of the children separated from adults under zero tolerance had been reunited, who exactly was the Biden administration allowing into the United States, and why?
Keep in mind that each of those migrants — parents and children — had been apprehended to begin with because they had entered the United States illegally, and they entered illegally because they had no right to be here. If “reunification” were necessary, why not reunite them in their home countries?
And if adults were separated from children due to fraud concerns, have those fraud concerns been resolved? What about the adults who were separated from children because they had criminal records? Is the Biden administration “reuniting” criminal aliens with children in the United States?
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
As noted, the press really does not understand this issue to begin with, and the Biden administration has not been forthcoming with answers to any of these questions. But we know from the CR who Biden wants to pay the price to fulfill his campaign promise to “reunite families”: ICE and Border Patrol agents.
Specifically, he wants to take the money to do so from the “Operations and Support” budgets for ICE and CBP. Those are the budgets that are used to pay ICE officers and agents, CBP officers at the ports of entry, and Border Patrol agents.
Given the disaster at the border that has left CBP at a “breaking point”, and the fact that the Biden administration has stated that ICE officers and agents must leave almost every illegal alien (including a large number of serious criminals) in the United States alone due to the agency’s “limited resources”, those operations budgets seem like an odd place to draw money from to pay for Biden’s campaign promise.
Where will that money go? The CR explains that the administration needs it to provide “shelter, temporary housing, subsistence expenses, transportation, medical care, access to legal services, and such other assistance or relief for separated families that the Secretary of Homeland Security determines necessary to accomplish reunification”.
That’s right — the Biden administration wants to take money from Border Patrol agents to pay lawyers and to give pocket money to illegal migrants.
Overworked Due to Biden's Own Policies
The president was lawfully elected, and he has the right (constrained only by limits in the law) to make any policy that he wants as relates to “family reunification”. Respectfully, however, why does he want to take money from CBP, a severely overworked and underfunded agency, to do so? Especially since they are overworked due to the deleterious effects of his own policies.
More saliently, no ICE agent or officer, no CBP officer, and no Border Patrol agent was responsible for crafting any Trump administration policy — “zero tolerance” or otherwise — that resulted in any adult in a family unit being separated from any child. And none of those officers or agents encouraged any aliens in FMUs to enter illegally to begin with. So why does the Biden administration want to punish them?
The only logical answer is that the president does not like immigration enforcement, at the border or in the interior. He’s conflated those who do the job with the job that they signed up to do — and that you pay them to do. He plainly does not think that the job that they do is important, because if he did, he would be asking for more funding for them, not picking their pockets to cater to his base.
If the president wants money to pay for his campaign promises to reunify illegal migrant families in the United States, perhaps he could look at the White House budget first: He wants “$67 million to maintain core operations and support additional activities including COVID-19 management and testing”.
Staffers there could get vaccinated (which is free), wash their hands, socially distance, and buy some masks from Old Navy (five for $12.50) to cover the costs of family reunification. But the president should not be taking money from ICE and Border Patrol agents to give lawyers, housing, and “subsistence expenses” to parents who exposed their children to danger and trauma by bringing them here illegally.