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ICYMI: Jonathan Blitzer: “Will Anyone in the Trump Administration Ever Be Held Accountable for the Zero-Tolerance Policy?”

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As the nation reels from the ongoing and unresolved family separation crisis, White House Advisor Stephen Miller is at it again. Without remorse or regret for having ripped apart thousands of families in one of America’s darkest chapters, the cabal of hardliners he has sprinkled throughout the federal bureaucracy are scheming to devise their next all-out assault on refugees seeking safety in America.

As The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer reports:

Since the middle of July, a group of some twenty government officials has been gathering each week at the headquarters of Customs and Border Protection, in Washington, D.C., to discuss what the Trump Administration should do in the aftermath of the President’s failed zero-tolerance policy.

…The meetings—which, the official said, were first called by a team at the White House that reports directly to Stephen Miller, the President’s senior adviser on policy—include representatives from the Department of Justice, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. The main focus, the official added, has been to “map out” how the government can detain asylum seekers as they wait for a hearing before an immigration judge, which can take several months: “The job is to model all the steps in the process. If we go after families, where do we detain them? What are the resources required at each step?”

In the next week, officials are planning to generate a first round of proposals, which is expected to include projections such as how many beds might be needed in detention centers and children’s shelters, as well as how many additional immigration judges and asylum officers should be hired to keep the system moving. The official told me that the proposals need not be restricted by existing federal laws and court agreements, such as the Flores settlement, which provides protections for the treatment of immigrant children in custody and guidelines on how long they can be detained.

Blitzer argues, and we’re inclined to agree, that the White House is emboldened after the administration got off scot-free in the aftermath of the family separation fiasco. The consequence? Continued targeting of immigrant families and children.  

Such boldness doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. To date, no one in the Trump Administration has been held accountable for its family-separation policy, even after evidence has steadily mounted as to its immense human costs and administrative failures. The government’s own data show that it has had no appreciable effect on migration patterns throughout the summer, but the Administration pursued the policy anyway, targeting immigrant families.

…Despite the public outcry over family separation, Customs and Border Protection, which is in charge of immigration enforcement at the border, has been largely overlooked, perhaps because it’s been upstaged by the notoriety of ice, its better-known institutional sibling. But decisions about whom the government would refer for prosecution were made by officials at C.B.P., and it was Border Patrol agents at C.B.P., not ice officers, who took children from their parents’ arms. During the summer, the commissioner of the agency, Kevin McAleenan, denied that the Trump Administration was deliberately separating families, even as he directed implementation of a policy doing just that. In late June, just days after Sabraw ordered the government to reunite the separated families, Kirstjen Nielsen, the head of D.H.S., made an announcement. Ronald Vitiello, the deputy commissioner of C.B.P. and a law-enforcement veteran, was tapped to replace Thomas Homan as the director of ice. I was in El Paso just before the news broke, when I received a text message from an ice officer: “From the frying pan to the fire.”

Some five hundred and sixty children are still separated from their parents, including twenty-four who are five years old or younger, and the parents of more than three hundred and sixty of them have already been deported. Between seven hundred and eight hundred other children were reunited with their parents in detention, where their situation is especially confounding. About half of the reunited parents have final orders of deportation—in many instances, because they’d been pressured to sign papers waiving their rights to pursue their immigration cases. As a result, families face a choice: either a parent and child can agree to be deported together, or the child can stay in this country alone while her own case is decided. Last Thursday night, Sabraw issued an order temporarily blocking the deportation of reunited parents so that they could have more time to weigh their legal options with immigration lawyers. As Dara Lind wrote, at Vox, “The question right now is when they will actually be deported, not whether they will be.”

I asked the current Administration official whether the outcry over family separation had caught the government by surprise. It had, the official said. “The expectation was that the kids would go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, that the parents would get deported, and that no one would care.” Yet, when it became clear that the public did, the Administration chose not to change course.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

This report is chilling. Miller and his gang have no humanity and assumed Americans wouldn’t care. They were wrong. Unbowed, they beat a strategic retreat to plot their next moves. Get ready for a series of assaults on our foundational values. Get ready to stand up for an America that protects refugees, keeps families together and makes sure those facing life-and-death situations have their day in court with a lawyer by their side. This fight is far from over.

Read Blitzer’s entire piece online here.