Fact-Checking Trump’s Claim That He Didn’t Start Family Separations at Border

What President Trump Said

“President Obama had separation. I’m the one that brought them together.”
— in remarks to reporters on Wednesday

Mr. Trump’s immigration policies were in the news again on Wednesday with the administration’s release of a regulation that would allow it to detain indefinitely migrant families who cross the border illegally.

Questioned about the new policy, which is sure to be challenged in court, Mr. Trump continued his pattern of blaming “loopholes,” nonexistent laws and former presidents for his own administration’s practice of separating migrant families who cross illegally. President Barack Obama, in particular, has been wrongly cast as the instigator of the practice by Mr. Trump at least two dozen other times.

Under Mr. Trump, the Justice Department announced its “zero-tolerance policy” for illegally entering the United States in April 2018, describing it as “new” and in response to an increase in unauthorized border crossings that spring.

The policy called for the criminal prosecution of everyone who enters the country illegally. As a result, nearly 3,000 children were forcibly separated from adult family members who were detained under the new policy, which multiple top Trump officials have characterized as a deterrent.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 that was meant to end the practice of family separation.

While previous administrations did break up families, it was rare — for example, in cases in which there was doubt about the familial relationship between a child and an accompanying adult, according to former officials and immigration experts.

“Nothing like what the Trump administration is doing has occurred before,” Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute told The New York Times last year.

Mr. Trump’s aides and political allies have misleadingly claimed a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores settlement necessitated family separation. That court agreement limited how long the government could hold migrant children and set standards for their care.

After a surge of families from Central America began arriving at the United States’ southwestern border in 2014, the Obama administration opened family detention centers. That prompted criticism and more lawsuits, which argued that the move had breached the Flores settlement by not releasing children swiftly.

In 2016, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that the Flores settlement “unambiguously applies both to minors who are accompanied and unaccompanied by their parents.” It also overturned a Federal District Court’s decision that the government must also release the parents.

The new rule unveiled by the Trump administration on Wednesday, if carried out, would replace the standards set by Flores and allow for the indefinite detention of families.

Curious about the accuracy of a claim? Email factcheck@nytimes.com.

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