Trump Can’t Blame His Own Cruelty on Obama’s Flawed Record

Trump, under fire for separating immigrant children from their families and detaining them in inhumane conditions, has falsely claimed that Obama started the policy of family separation.

Obama’s policies for migrant children and immigration were not perfect. He presided over a record number of deportations, while also offering people brought here as children without documentation the right to legally stay and work in this country.

In 2014, the Obama administration sent over a thousand child migrants to the same Army base where Trump is being criticized for sending children now.

Obama was a mixed bag, and certainly flawed. But while his administration did detain child migrants who arrived alone, family separation was rare. And camp conditions appear to have been far more humane.

Back around 2010, I visited one of the group homes where undocumented immigrant children who’d come to this country unaccompanied were held under Obama. It was a group home, not a detention center.

The youngest were about 12. There were no infants and toddlers, because nobody sent infants and toddlers to a foreign country on their own. They stayed in the home until they could be reunited with their families.

The administration’s priority was reuniting families — either with family in the United States, or sometimes by deportation. It wasn’t a perfect policy, but it didn’t prioritize separation or deliberate mistreatment.

I visited because my friend was there working as the children’s therapist. (Note that the children had a therapist! The Trump administration has fought in court against admitting even medical doctors.) He invited me to come see his workplace one day.

Most of the kids were out on a field trip to a sports game. (They went on field trips!) I could see that all of the children had beds, and it felt a bit like a dorm.

It wasn’t ideal —  children should be with their families, not in detention centers. But I at least came away with the sense that the government was trying to solve that problem, not causing it on purpose.

The adults involved all cared about the children and wanted to do what they could for the kids’ well being. That was the impression I got, and my friend who worked as the children’s therapist concurs.

As you have likely seen in the news, that isn’t what is going on now. The U.S. government is now deliberately separating children from their parents, placing them in overcrowded detention centers (not group homes), and holding them in deeply inhumane conditions. I doubt they’re taking them on field trips.

When criticized, Trump often likes to blame things on Obama. He claims that Obama caused all the problems, and he is now solving them.

In this case, it’s hardly a matter of black and white. Obama’s record on immigration and undocumented children was flawed. But the small part that I saw wasn’t remotely as cruel as what we’re seeing now.

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.