As the midterm elections approach, President Donald Trump is blaming Democrats for separating children of undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers from their families.

Trump has stated both on Twitter and in a meeting with California officials earlier this month that Democrats are to blame for this separation. “We have to break up families,” Trump said, according to CNN. “The Democrats gave us that law. It’s a horrible thing, we have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law and they don’t want to do anything about it.”

 

 

However, there is no law stating that children must be separated from their families, let alone one pushed through by Democrats. The Trump administration has a policy of referring any person caught illegally crossing the border for federal prosecution, resulting in children being separated from their parents, as they cannot enter the federal prison system with them.

There is a law that requires unaccompanied minors from nations other than Mexico and Canada to be placed in the care of the Office for Refugee Resettlement or relatives in the U.S. while removal proceedings take place. This law was approved by unanimous consent and signed by President George W. Bush. Trump’s comments regarding families being broken up coincides with the revelation that the government lost track of 1,475 migrant children placed with sponsors in the U.S., according to a testimony by the Department of Health and Human Services. However, these children were unaccompanied and unrelated to this practice of separating children from their parents.     

The Trump administration has made it clear that it hopes that the threat of breaking up families will deter people from attempting to cross the border. In two speeches in Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Diego earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security will be referring every person caught illegally crossing the border to the Justice Department for prosecution.

“If you cross the border unlawfully…then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

In an interview with NPR, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called this a “tough deterrent.”

“The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever,” Kelly said. “But the big point is they elected into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in California over past separations. Advocates for migrants said most are fleeing violence in Central America and should be treated as asylum seekers, not criminals. Critics of the policies say Trump is purposefully confusing these two issues and using it to his advantage.

“You have a purposeful abuse of children for political gain,” David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told CNN.

Issues of breaking up families and placing children – and losing them – in the system are among other immigration controversies from the White House such as the uncertainty faced by DACA recipients and travel restrictions on people from Muslim nations.