Trump says migrant detention conditions 'better than they were under Obama'

Trump says migrant detention conditions 'better than they were under Obama'
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE on Monday declared migrant detention facilities are better than they were under former President Obama, despite numerous reports describing worsening conditions in centers along the southern border and elsewhere.

“No, the conditions are much better than they were under President Obama,” Trump said during an exclusive interview with The Hill. 

Trump said the Obama administration built many of the facilities where migrants from Central America are behind held and incorrectly claimed that his predecessor created the policy of separating child migrants from their parents or adult guardians.

“When I came in, I took over Obama’s policy. It was a policy of separation. I’m the one that put them together,” he said.

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The Trump administration last year created a “zero tolerance” policy as a deterrent amid a growing number of Central American migrants crossing the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents after families were detained by immigration authorities.

The previous administration did not have a sweeping policy of prosecuting adults in a way that required they be separated from their children. 

Trump later signed an executive order stopping the separations amid a major public outcry. 

The president is again fending off criticism over conditions inside facilities for children, which have struggled to handle the tens of thousands of migrants crossing the border each month.

The acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), John Sanders, plans to step down next week amid the uproar, an agency official confirmed to The Hill on Tuesday.

The government recently moved children from a Border Patrol station outside El Paso, Texas, after reports that more than 300 were held without proper sanitation, food and water. A lawyer monitoring the facility told The New Yorker that children were forced to care for one another, had slept on cold floors, did not receive treatment for illnesses like the flu and were denied access to toothbrushes and soap.

Around 100 children were reportedly returned to the facility due to a lack of bed space at other detention centers, according to multiple reports. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded Tlaib says Trump 'scared' of 'Squad' The Memo: Dangers loom for Trump on immigration MORE (D-N.Y.) earlier this month likened the conditions to concentration camps. Trump on Monday did not respond specifically when asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s description. 

He said he would “like to see them” receive toothbrushes and other toiletries, but added there may be issues providing them “from a strictly legal standpoint” while repeating his claim that “we’re taking care of people far better than President Obama did.”

A Justice Department lawyer recently argued in court that migrants in detention centers are not necessarily guaranteed access to toiletries under a 1997 legal settlement spelling out requirements for the detention of immigrant children.

The comment sparked outrage from Democrats and immigrant-rights activists, who said the agreement spells out that children should be held in “safe and sanitary” facilities.

Obama also faced criticism in 2014 for the conditions at makeshift facilities for child migrants, most of whom crossed the border unaccompanied. At the time, news outlets and advocates discovered thousands of children sleeping inside chain-link-fenced cages, oftentimes on the floor.

“Remember the big, the big deal where they showed the cells all over and they said, Donald Trump, and they showed young children in the cells and Donald Trump built these cells? It turned out they were built in 2014 when Obama was president,” Trump said.

The president also expressed pessimism about the possibility Congress will reach an agreement to change immigration laws, a condition he laid out last week when announcing he was delaying an operation to deport migrant families.

“I was called by some very good people that happen to be Democrat, and they asked me if I’d delay it. I said, ‘But listen, we are just kidding ourselves unless you're gonna change the loophole provisions and unless you're gonna change asylum.’ And if we can work on that, fine. And we may not get there. We probably won't. It’s incredible,” Trump said.

House Democrats are working to pass a $4.5 billion package to address the flow of migrants at the southern border, which includes language requiring CBP to establish health and hygiene standards for children and adults in custody.

The White House has threatened to veto the measure, calling it a “partisan” bill that “underfunds” immigration enforcement efforts and “seeks to take advantage of the current crisis by inserting policy provisions that would make our country less safe.”