After Family Separation Policy Reversal, Trump Says 'Zero Tolerance' Should Remain In Effect

Jun 21, 2018
Originally published on June 21, 2018 9:53 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One day after reversing his administration's practice of separating immigrant families, President Trump is insisting his zero tolerance policy for illegal border crossings must remain in effect.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you took zero tolerance away, everybody would come right down. They'd be getting their little belongings, unfortunately, and they would be heading up. You would be - you would have a run on this country the likes of which nobody's ever seen.

CORNISH: That's the president during a Cabinet meeting today. He's also calling on Congress to take action even as House leaders are delaying a vote on immigration legislation. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now from the White House. And, Sarah, bring us up to date. What is the president saying about the situation along the border today?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, he's reiterating that there's what he sees as a need for toughness on immigration. And that includes, he says, his immigration - his administration's zero tolerance policy. That's the one that's led to children being taken from their parents and detained. And the outcry of course over that prompted yesterday's executive order designed to stop family separations. But, Audie, there's still a lot that's unknown about what will happen to children currently detained and how that executive order will be carried out. And the president again is calling on Congress to take action on immigration.

CORNISH: Right. And Congress basically struggles at every turn to do anything on immigration, right? Today House leaders postponed a vote on a bill that they were pushing. So what's the president saying now?

MCCAMMON: Well, he continues to pin the blame especially on Democrats in Congress for the situation along the border. That's despite the fact that the zero tolerance policy is his administration's policy. But the president says he wants both parties to come together, get something passed, though he noted that can be especially tough in an election year. And the legislation that's been delayed in the House has been delayed because House leaders are scrambling to try to get enough votes. Even if it passes there, though, it would likely face a very tough battle in the Senate.

CORNISH: While the president was at the White House, the first lady was near the U.S.-Mexico border visiting a facility where immigrant children are being detained. Talk about that trip.

MCCAMMON: Well, President Trump said today that his wife had gone because she was concerned about the situation there. She visited a couple of facilities in McAllen, Texas, a processing center for immigrants coming into the country without documentation and a facility where children are being kept. Here's a little bit of what she said.

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MELANIA TRUMP: I'm here to learn about your facility and - which I know you house children on a long-term basis. And I'd also like to ask you how I can help to these children to reunite with their families.

CORNISH: Sarah, one unusual thing I want to ask about that's been noted about this trip is the first lady wore this jacket as she boarded her plane. And the back of the coat, it has the words scrawled, I really don't care - do you? It's in large white letters on the back. That was eyebrow-raising in this context. What do we know if anything about what kind of message she was sending?

MCCAMMON: Well, we don't know much, but a reporter asked about that. And her communications director said by email, it's a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today's important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn't going to choose to focus on her wardrobe. So it could mean nothing. But people are talking about it, especially given the sensitivity of this subject and the fact that Melania Trump has publicly pushed back against her husband's policy here.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.