US migration: Did Barack Obama separate families at border like Donald Trump?

US migration: Did Barack Obama separate families at border like Donald Trump?

Protesters in Texas object to Trump's detention of children. Image: Getty

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Donald Trump’s hardline ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy and separating of families illegally crossing into the US from Mexico has seen worldwide condemnation, but some have argued this has been in place since Obama’s tenure.

Images emerged of children being kept in cages and separated from their families who have tried to illegally cross the border.

The US President’s ‘zero tolerance’ stance means every person caught trying to come into the US from the southern border illegally would be prosecuted.

The law states that children cannot be held in jail with their adult parents, which has led to thousands of children finding themselves in Department of Health and Human Services shelters until they can be released to a legal guardian.

Listen to Mike Graham discussing the immigration policy above

Obama 'separated less families than Trump'

However, Kirstjen Nielsen, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary said: "The Obama administration, the Bush administration, all separated families. They absolutely did. They did - their rate was less than ours, but they absolutely did do this. This is not new."

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, backed up this statement on Friday by telling Fox News: "You know what's ironic? It's the same way Barack Obama did it."

In 2014 the US saw a surge of unaccompanied children and families come across the border from central American states, with many escaping poverty and violence. Despite the influx, Jeh Johnson, who served as Homeland Security Secretary under Obama, said he did not separate children.

"In three years on my watch, we probably deported or returned or repatriated about a million people to enforce border security,” he said.

Those travelling with children were ‘refrained from prosecution’.

Trump 'choosing' to prosecute parents

Peter Margulies, an immigration law and national security law professor at Roger Williams University School of Law said: "In contrast, the current administration has chosen to prosecute adult border-crossers, even when they have kids. That's a choice - one fundamentally different from the choice made by both Obama and previous presidents of both parties."

Denise Gilman, a law professor who directs the immigration clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, said immigration attorneys "occasionally" saw separated families under the Obama administration.

"However, these families were usually reunited quite quickly once identified," she said, "even if that meant release of a parent from adult detention."

2,300 children were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.