Donald Trump’s election campaign was organised around hostility towards immigration. So it was little surprise when in May he introduced a “zero tolerance” policy insisting that all adults who cross the US-Mexico border illegally be prosecuted. The upshot, however, was that 2,300 children were separated from their parents. As photos of them in tears or in fenced cages provoked worldwide outrage, the president found himself increasingly isolated when even some of his most loyal lieutenants urged a change of course. After a few bewildering days, a man notorious for never backing down did just that – sort of.
The issue has been struggling for attention against issues like Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un. However, on Father’s Day it breaks through on America’s Sunday politics talk shows. Former first lady Laura Bush writes in the Washington Post that the zero tolerance policy is “cruel”, “immoral” and “breaks my heart”.
Now it is rapidly snowballing into a full-blown political crisis. Images of children in cages dominate television as networks dispatch anchors and reporters to the border. ProPublica obtains a secret audio recording of detained children crying for their parents. Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen struggles to defend the policy at a White House press briefing.
Bipartisan pressure is reaching a critical mass and there is condemnation from around the world, including the Pope and the UN. On evening cable news, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow breaks down in tears but Trump cheerleader Corey Lewandowski responds to a story about a 10-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome being taken from her mother and put in a cage by saying: “Womp womp.”
In a tactical retreat, Trump signs an executive order that will ostensibly end family separations at the border, although opponents criticise its vague language and warn that families can still be held in detention. The order makes no mention of whether families already separated will be reunited.
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