The 4 Former First Ladies Condemn Trump’s Border Policy


Former first ladies, clockwise from top left: Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton.CreditGetty Images; Reuters; Associated Press; Jim Wilson/The New York Times

By Matt Stevens and Sarah Mervosh

June 19, 2018

In the weeks since the Trump administration instituted a zero tolerance policy that seeks to criminally prosecute anyone who crosses the border unlawfully and effectively causes children to be separated from their families, criticism has poured in from advocacy groups, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and a host of political luminaries who are no longer in office.

Now, in the span of about 24 hours, all four living former first ladies have added their voices to the chorus of public critique, calling the practice “immoral,” “disgraceful” and a “humanitarian crisis.”

Even the current first lady, Melania Trump, took the somewhat unusual step of issuing a statement that appeared to align somewhat with her predecessors, while also avoiding assigning partisan blame.

“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” her office said in a statement on Sunday. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

The rare public show of unity among several former first ladies drew a response Monday afternoon from Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, who acknowledged that “calling attention to this matter is important” and said the situation at the border is “a very serious issue” that Congress needs to fix, according to a transcript of her remarks.

Asked about the criticisms, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said a prior administration was to blame.

Frankly, this law was actually signed into effect in 2008,” she said.

Though the administration officials have called on lawmakers to close loopholes, no law actually requires that families be separated at the border. President Trump ordered the stiffer effort last month — and it is the zero tolerance policy that results in unlawful immigrants being taken into federal criminal custody, at which point their children are considered unaccompanied alien minors and taken away.

Here’s a look at what each former first lady has said — and how each of their husbands dealt with immigration during their time in office.

Rosalynn Carter

In a statement released by the Carter Center on Monday, Rosalynn Carter condemned the Trump administration’s approach.


“The practice and policy today of removing children from their parents’ care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country,” Mrs. Carter said.

In 1980, her husband, Jimmy Carter, initially offered so-called open arms to tens of thousands of Cuban refugees — many fleeing communism. He later abandoned the offer in favor of program designed to reduce the influx of refugees and exclude those who had been imprisoned in Cuba for serious nonpolitical crimes.

Separately, Mr. Carter increased the number of Southeast Asian boat refugees who were allowed to resettle here after the Vietnam War.

Hillary Clinton

✔What’s happening to families at the border right now is a humanitarian crisis. Every parent who has ever held a child in their arms, every human being with a sense of compassion and decency, should be outraged.4:20 PM - Jun 18, 2018

At first, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic nominee for president, offered only a very brief comment on the Trump administration policy.

“YES!” she wrote, signaling her agreement with a tweet by her husband, Bill Clinton, who said on Twitter on Father’s Day that children who had been separated from their parents “should not be a negotiating tool.”

Then, in a series of tweets on Monday, Mrs. Clinton offered additional thoughts, calling situation at the border “a humanitarian crisis.”


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