On Wednesday, June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that he said is meant to keep migrants families together at the United States southern border. Since issuing the order, political commentators have debated the extent to which the order actually accomplishes its stated goal, with some asserting that it's unclear what will happen to families who have already been separated. What is clear, though, is that the signing of the executive order came afters numerous occasions during which Trump lied about not being able to end family separation and his administration's decision to enforce the "zero tolerance" policy that led to it.
That was never the case.
What the president has called "forced family breakup" is the result of a new policy that was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice in early April. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has revealed that over 2,300 children were separated from their parents in the period between May 5 and June 9.
The administration, however, was never bound by law to continue the policy, and members of the president's party publicly reminded him of that fact as well.
"There is no federal law requiring the seperation of children and parents at the border," reads an open letter to the president from Joe Straus, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. "While it is certainly true that there have been family separations under previous presidents, [Attorney] General Sessions' decision to criminally prosecute all adults trying to enter the United States has caused the number of separations to increase."
Straus' letter was released on Tuesday, June 19. Days before, the president had insisted that the seperation of families was the result of Democrats' law.
"The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda," the president tweeted on June 15. "Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!"
That same day, during an on-the-fly press conference delivered while walking outside of the White House, the president echoed the same sentiment.
"I hate the children being taken away," Trump told reporters. "The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law."
The next day, the president took to Twitter to repeat the same message.
"Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!" he said in a post on June 16. "This is why we need more Republicans elected in November. Democrats are good at only three things, High Taxes, High Crime and Obstruction. Sad!"
In addition to the numerous occasions on which Trump asserted that only a comprehensive change of immigration laws could end "forced family breakup," officials within his administration have denied that the policy exists.
"This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted on June 17. "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period."
On Wednesday, as President Trump signed his latest executive order, Nielsen stood by his side.
"So we’re going to have strong — very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together," the president said at the signing. "I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. It’s a problem that’s gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations."
That the signing came after days of insisting that his administration's hands were tied is worth remembering.