“Family separation is the Democrats’ fault.”

“We are just following the law.”

“If the Democrats don’t like it, they can repeal it.”

“It is not happening.”

“It breaks my heart, but the Democrats did it.”

“It’s a good way to deter future immigration.”

From the Washington Post:

Trump team cannot get its story straight on separating migrant families

THE BIG IDEA: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted last night. “Period.”

This formulation is striking because President Trump’s top domestic policy adviser, Stephen Miller, was quoted in Sunday’s New York Times touting the crackdown. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry,” he said. “Period.”

DHS announced last week that around 2,000 children have been taken from their families during the six weeks since the policy went into effect, and officials acknowledge the number may be even higher.

More than a month after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump’s new “zero tolerance” policy to great fanfare, members of the administration continue to struggle with how to talk about it – alternating between defending the initiative as a necessary deterrent, distancing themselves, blaming Democrats, trying to use it as leverage for negotiations with Congress or denying that it exists at all.

On Sunday alone, which happened to be Father’s Day, here’s a taste of what current and former members of Trump’s team had to say about taking kids away from their undocumented parents:

“The policy is incredibly complicated, and it is one we need to do a better job of communicating,” said Marc Short, the president’s liaison to Capitol Hill, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We’ve not talked about the history of how we got to this point.”

“Nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who has got a conscience… I will tell you that nobody likes this policy.” Then she blamed the legislative branch. “Congress passed a law that it is a crime,” Conway said. “This is a congressional law from many years ago. It is a crime to enter this country illegally. So if they don’t like that law, they should change it.”

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Sessions is “not giving the president the best advice” on how to handle this situation. “I know President Trump doesn’t like the children taken away from their parents,” he said. “Jeff is not giving the president the best advice!”

In a very rare statement, first lady Melania Trump (an immigrant herself) called for the government to show “heart” when enforcing the law. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

“The first lady’s decision to step into the debate makes the silence of another Trump family member all the more telling,” notes columnist Karen Tumulty. “Where is Ivanka Trump, who is actually an official adviser to her father — and the one who claims that family issues are her portfolio?”

“I don’t think you have to justify it,” countered former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have a crisis on the southern border. … They are criminals when they come here illegally. … He has a zero-tolerance situation. He has drawn a line in the sand. I don’t think he’s going to back off from it.”

On Twitter, the president has continued to falsely blame Democrats for the separations. “I hate the children being taken away,” Trump insisted Friday on the White House lawn. “The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

But nonpartisan fact checkers agree that the recent surge in separations is the result of Trump’s order. He signed off on prosecuting all migrants who cross the border, including those with young children. Once they’re locked up, the administration declares the kids to be unaccompanied minors and turns them over to a division of the Department of Health and Human Services to care for. The White House has also begun interpreting a 1997 legal agreement and a 2008 bipartisan human trafficking bill as requiring the separation of families. Neither George W. Bush or Barack Obama took this posture.

Sessions, who continues to vigorously defend the policy he pushed for internally, freely acknowledges that Bush and Obama did not interpret the law the same way that Trump is doing now. “The previous administration wouldn’t prosecute illegal aliens who entered the country with children,” he said last Thursday in Fort Wayne, Ind. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” (Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended using religion to justify the policy. “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” the White House press secretary told reporters that afternoon.)

“Senior Trump strategists” told my colleagues who cover the White House on Friday that Trump believes he can use these kids as bargaining chips to force Democrats to negotiate a broader deal, which might include money for the border wall he desperately wants and reductions in the number of legal immigrants who are allowed into the United States. “The thinking in the building is to force people to the table,” a White House official said. “If they aren’t going to cooperate, we are going to look to utilize the laws as hard as we can,” said a second White House official.

Remember that Trump also sought to use the “dreamers” as bargaining chips earlier this year. After ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protected undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, Trump blamed Democrats and dangled a DACA fix as he demanded massive concessions. Miller subsequently torpedoed a bipartisan compromise.

— What’s undeniable at this point is that the separations have created both escalating humanitarian and political problems for the president. Period.

— Former first lady Laura Bush compares what’s happening to Japanese internment in an op-ed for today’s Washington Post: “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart. Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.

“Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation … If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place. … Recently, Colleen Kraft, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a shelter run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers.

“People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer. I moved away from Washington almost a decade ago, but I know there are good people at all levels of government who can do better to fix this.”

It’s hard to overstate how rare it is for Mrs. Bush to weigh in on a policy matter this way. What’s especially striking is how clear she is on the cause. There’s none of the obfuscation or ambiguity about Congress needing to fix the problem that we’re hearing from others.

Father’s Day brings protests of separating migrant families

— Our Sean Sullivan got a brief tour of one facility in McAllen, Tex., on Sunday: “They divided the young children who had been separated from their parents, placing 20 or more in a concrete-floor cage and providing foil blankets, thin mattress pads, bottled water and food. The migrant children, some confused or expressionless, watched as uniformed officials led reporters on a brief tour … of a processing center and temporary detention facility. Some 1,100 undocumented individuals were being held, including nearly 200 unaccompanied minors, according to estimates. Detainees are being kept in bare-bones cells surrounded by tall metal fencing inside a sprawling facility with high ceilings.

“The facility resembled a large warehouse divided into cage-like structures housing different groups of people. The detainees had been sorted into groups — unaccompanied boys 17 and under; unaccompanied girls 17 and under; male heads of household with their families; and female heads of household with their families.

“Officials took away the shoelaces of the undocumented immigrants, fearful about the safety of those in custody. One woman fought back tears as she spoke to reporters. One child clutched a water bottle and a bag of chips. Several of the detainees wrapped themselves in the foil blankets as they sat on benches, the ground, or on modest mattress pads on the floor of the cells.”

— The AP’s Nomaan Merchant, who was also on the tour, adds: “Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, met with a 16-year-old girl who had been taking care of a young girl for three days. The teen and others in their cage thought the girl was 2 years old. ‘She had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper,’ Brane said. Brane said that after an attorney started to ask questions, agents found the girl’s aunt and reunited the two. It turned out that the girl was actually 4 years old. Part of the problem was that she didn’t speak Spanish, but K’iche, a language indigenous to Guatemala. ‘She was so traumatized that she wasn’t talking,’ Brane said. ‘She was just curled up in a little ball.’

“Brane said she also saw officials at the facility scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books. But one boy nearby wasn’t playing with the rest. According to Brane, he was quiet, clutching a piece of paper that was a photocopy of his mother’s ID card.”

— “[A]gents would not give many details about the process, saying only that families brought in together remain together until the parents go to court,” Politico’s Elana Schor adds from McAllen.

— Anne Chandler, executive director of the Houston office of the immigrant rights nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, told Texas Monthly what she has heard from migrant parents: “Judging from the mothers and fathers I’ve spoken to and those my staff has spoken to, there are several different processes. Sometimes they will tell the parent, ‘We’re taking your child away.’ And when the parent asks, ‘When will we get them back?’ they say, ‘We can’t tell you that.’ … In other cases, we see no communication that the parent knows that their child is to be taken away. Instead, the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ … I was talking to one mother, and she said, ‘Don’t take my child away,’ and the child started screaming and vomiting and crying hysterically, and she asked the officers, ‘Can I at least have five minutes to console her?’ They said no.”

From the president of FWD.us, a pro-immigration advocacy group:

— “‘I Can’t Go Without My Son,’ a Mother Pleaded as She Was Deported to Guatemala,” by the New York Times’s Miriam Jordan: “They’d had a plan: Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez packed up what little she had in Guatemala and traveled across Mexico with her 8-year-old son, Anthony. … ‘I am completely devastated,’ Ms. Ortiz, 25, said in one of a series of video interviews last week from her family home in Guatemala. Her eyes swollen from weeping and her voice subdued, she said she had no idea when or how she would see her son again.”

— A major Latino charity is facing a firestorm over its connection to the family separations. The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey explores the moral quandary: “The $240 million-a-year Southwest Key organization has big contracts with the government to house immigrant minors in its two dozen low-security shelters in Texas, Arizona, and California, a population that in recent weeks has exploded with infants and children removed from their parents.”

— Jose Luis Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who has been a legal U.S. resident since the 1980s, spent Father’s Day in jail after he was arrested by immigration officials last week. “They are kidnapping people from their home, starting with my father, who has the legal status,” Garcia’s daughter, Natalie, said. (New York Times)

Congress remains at odds over family separation at border

— Trump will go to the Capitol on Tuesday to speak with GOP lawmakers ahead of votes in the House on two immigration bills.

— Two GOP senators, Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine), sent a letter yesterday to Nielsen and HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking for clarification about why immigrant children are reportedly being separated from parents who are seeking asylum, despite denials that this is happening. “Secretary Nielsen recently appeared before the U.S. Senate and testified that immigrant parents and children who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry to request asylum will not be separated,” they write. “Despite Secretary Nielsen’s testimony, a number of media outlets have reported instances where parents and children seeking asylum at a port of entry have been separated. These accounts and others like them concern us.”

— Vulnerable House members who are already facing tough reelection fights this year are looking for ways to distance themselves. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who represents the affluent and well-educated suburbs west of the Twin Cities, is exactly the sort of Republican who could lose his seat because of backlash to Trump’s policy. What’s happening on the Southern border will likely not play very well with moms in Minnetonka. So it’s no surprise Paulsen tweeted strong opposition:

— Against a notable silence on the part of many Republicans who usually defend Trump, more Democratic lawmakers fanned out across the country on Sunday, visiting a detention center outside New York City and heading to Texas to inspect facilities where children have been detained. Shane Harris, David Weigel and Karoun Demirjian report: “In McAllen, Tex., where several Democratic lawmakers toured a facility, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of Texas estimated that he saw about 100 children younger than 6. ‘It was orderly, but it was far from what I would call humane,’ he said. Seven Democratic members of Congress spent Sunday morning at the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in New Jersey, waiting nearly 90 minutes to view the facilities and visit five detained immigrants.”