Trump Aide Miller: Separating Children From Families at Border Was a 'Simple Decision'

'It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law'

Stephen Miller listens at a meeting between President Donald Trump and teachers and parents on education at the White House, February 14, 2017.
\ Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

White House adviser Stephen Miller is again at the center of controversy as he told the New York Times over the weekend that the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents was a “simple decision.” Miller’s comments come as the White House is increasingly divided amid the growing public outrage over the policy.

“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” Miller told the Times in an interview. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.” The White House had hinted that it would go down that path last year, but U.S. President Donald Trump ended up backtracking.

The policy has caused outrage from all corners and Trump himself expressed dismay at the policy in an impromptu question and answer session with reporters on the White House lawn over the weekend. However, while expressing concern for the children, Trump insisted the policy was a “Democrat law” and only they can fix it. The separation of migrant children from adults is in fact due to the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to prosecute first-offenses as felonies and not misdemeanors - as the Obama and Bush administrations had.  

FACT CHECK: Trump Wrong DOJ Report Exonerates Him, Makes Up 'Democrat Law' Separating Migrant Children and Parents

Former National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden, a Trump critic invoked World War II to denounce the policy, writing, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.” The message was accompanied by a photo of Auschwitz.  Even evangelical supporters like Franklin Graham said the policy was "disgraceful" - a sentiment echoed by Catholic bishops and cardinals across the U.S. 

In a February interview on Fox News, Miller pushed the White House message on immigration reform, calling for a border wall and an end to “chain” migration, the process by which an immigrant can petition to bring family members to the United States, as well as the adjustment of the country’s visa lottery system.

Miller and Steve Bannon have been lobbying the U.S. Congress this week pushing for a conservative immigration reform plan. Unless the U.S. House of Representatives can beat the legislative odds, America's young "Dreamer" immigrants will have to keep dreaming about living without fear of deportation.

The Dreamers are hundreds of thousands of young people, mostly Hispanic, who illegally entered the country years ago as children and are now protected from deportation by an Obama-era program - known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) - that Republican President Donald Trump wants to end.

Congress missed a March 5 deadline Trump set for replacing DACA, which was established in 2012, with a new law to protect the Dreamers. Lawmakers were unable to bridge differences.

In the latest push, House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to bring up two bills for House votes next week, and Republican leaders said they were consulting with the White House. But prospects are not encouraging for either measure.

On Wednesday, former top White House adviser Steve Bannon had breakfast with a group of Republican conservatives, urging them to oppose any immigration bill Ryan might bring up this year because they will include "amnesty" for Dreamers.

Bannon "talked about immigration and amnesty and DACA amnesty and what happens when you let your base down," said Republican Representative Steve King, adding that he was in agreement.

Trump took a tough stance against immigration in his election campaign, although most Americans feel Dreamers should be helped, according to opinion polls.

Miller traveled to Congress to push for passage of the two bills, according to congressional aides. But some conservative Republicans are leery of supporting measures that might not pass, one aide said, adding that the lawmakers are looking first for more vocal support from Trump on the bills.

Reuters contributed to this report