Immigration is set to be hot topic for 2020 elections after Trump’s denial of reviving family separation at the border 

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Tuesday saw President Donald Trump putting an end to his administration’s policy of separating families at the border, and a shocking denial that he ever played a role in separating children. With claims that it was actually President Obama who separated children while in office, one has to wonder if Trump’s outright denial of his administration’s highly criticized handling of immigrants caught near the US-Mexico border has something to do with his stance on immigration in the 2020 election.

Donald Trump

“The President made it very clear this week, we’re not rethinking bringing back family separation,” said Mike Pence in an exclusive CNN interview this Thursday. His words seem contradictory to that of senior administration officials, who told CNN that the then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was being propelled by Trump to enforce a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that was stricter and more widespread. Trump denied this on Tuesday, and Pence supported his public statements stating that Congress was responsible for providing a legislative solution for what he calls an inadequate immigration system.

There are speculations that President Trump’s management shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security is because he aims to make immigration a focal point in the 2020 election. His Tuesday denial of the highly documented involvement of the Trump administration in separating families at the US-Mexico border may also be part of pushing for a focus on immigration policy.

2018 saw the introduction of the Trump administration “zero-tolerance” policy which saw the prosecution of immigrant parents who crossed the border illegally, while their children were held separately at HHS. In a report released on Thursday by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, it was recorded that there was a spike in immigration family separations beginning in the summer of 2017. 

The separation of families at the US-Mexico border sparked public outcry with people condemning the Trump administration for what was considered an inhumane policy. December 2018 saw the death of 8-year old Guatemalan Felipe Gomez Alonzo in U.S. custody at a New Mexico hospital after “suffering a cough, vomiting and fever” reported, the Associated Press. Alonzo’s death alongside that of 7-year old Jakelin Caal are under investigation.

The administration identified 245 children who had been separated between late June 2018 and early February of this year said The New York Times. Four of those children are under additional review. June 20, 2018 saw Trump put an end of the “zero tolerance” policy with an executive order.

Despite great divisions on the nation’s stance on immigration, Trump unlike many democrats in the 2020 election has arguably provided solutions- namely the wall. Democrats have been said to lack a comprehensive immigration plan, according to Time Magazine. Former Secretary of Housing and Development, Julián Castro has published a detailed immigration proposal. Aside from Castro the Democrats seem to be leaving much to be desired when it comes to immigration policy.

“They’re gonna say they don’t want to separate families, that they don’t want to be as bad as Trump, because they want to be clear they’re not evil” said Jess Morales Rocketto to Time Magazine. Rocketto is the executive director of Care in Action, a part of the organizing team for the 2018 Families Belong Together marches. “But they don’t want to have a conversation about policy, because that will get into things that will alienate voters in Iowa and in South Carolina. By and large the overall feeling is that it is not helpful in gaining new votes.”

Perhaps this is the trick that President Trump has grasped onto, whereas many Democrats have not. Despite conflict in ideas about immigration policy Americans want to be provided with solutions and Trump is giving just that. He has potential 2020 supporters, with the number of Americans stating that immigration was the top problem facing the country increasing from 13% to 21% according to Gallup after mostly exaggerated reports of a migrant “caravan” making its way to the US. Three-quarters of GOP voters during the same period, highlighted illegal immigration as a major concern, compared to only 19% of Democratic-leaning voters. 

Democratic candidates have made proposals pertaining to immigration policy, some may argue that they lack depth or are limited in scope. Recently, Senator Kamala Harris introduced the American Dream Employment Act, which gives young people who qualify under DACA the opportunity to work in the Senate or House of Representatives. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand makes promises to “fix our broken immigration system,” giving no specifics of how she aims to do this on her campaign website. There have also been frequent calls from liberals to “Abolish ICE”, a goal which some democratic candidates have supported. 

“This is a good issue for the Republic base,” said GOP strategist David Winston. “This is a promise he made to them in 2016, which is why he’s coming back to it now.” This presents another issue, Trump’s recent denial of involvement in the separation of families at the US-Mexico border alongside the Department of Homeland Security shakeup sets the precedence for a reignited national conversation about immigration, a conversation that Democrats, according to Time Magazine, may not be prepared or equipped to have.