First lady Melania Trump released an odd statement on Sunday about the Trump administration’s family separation practices — noting that she “hates” to see children taken from their parents, but stopping short of offering any real critique of the president’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
“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,” Trump spokesperson Stephanie Grisham told CNN in a statement. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Melania’s seemingly toothless statement comes as the Trump administration faces increasing heat about its efforts to implement a “zero-tolerance” policy, which prosecutes all adults crossing into the US illegally as criminals, forcing family separations as parents are arrested and kids are put into federal custody. According to the Department of Homeland Security, almost 2,000 kids were taken from their parents in the span of six weeks this past spring, a move that’s prompted a massive uproar over how fundamentally cruel it is.
This statement is notable given the rarity of Melania’s forays into public policy. Beyond the rollout of her “Be Best” policy platform aimed at tackling cyberbullying, the first lady hasn’t waded into many policy debates, so her decision to engage in this one took many by surprise.
The tone of the statement appeared to mirror that of another one she released after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, when she touted the need to “communicate w/o hate in our hearts.” Both statements highlighted the importance of kindness while shying away from meaningfully engaging with the actual issue at hand.
“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence,” she said at the time.
The first lady’s statement seemed to take cues from Trump in calling out “both sides”
While Melania’s statement offered some degree of opposition toward the practice of separating parents and children, it skirted any comment on the administration’s policy directly. It also argued that “both sides of the aisle” need to work together to address this issue, shifting pressure onto Democrats — a strategy that the president has also repeatedly employed in the past week as he seeks to deflect criticism.
As Vox’s Dara Lind reports, Trump has claimed that a “Democratic law” requires him to separate families, which is simply not true.
Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together! Started the Wall.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
“There is no law that requires immigrant families to be separated,” Lind writes. “The decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry — and the decision to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum — are both decisions the Trump administration has made.”
The framing of Melania’s statement seemed to suggest she thinks Democrats should bear some of the onus as well.