DULUTH, Minnesota (AP) — Big Lake, Minnesota, resident Pam Tolve believes President Trump was just doing his job when he decided to separate children from parents who crossed the border illegally.
Billy Inman of Woodstock, Georgia, said he felt sorry for the children but that their parents were responsible.
Die-hard Trump supporters remained steadfast, even as heart-rending photos of children held in pens and audio of terrified children crying out for their parents stoked outrage among Democrats and Republicans alike. They believed Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen when they falsely claimed that they had no choice but to enforce an existing law.
After Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to end forced separations — acknowledging he could act without Congress after all — they shrugged. The end, they suggested, justified the means, and the separations were the fault of Congress and those crossing the border illegally.
“It’s been blown out of proportion by the Democrats and the left,” said Tolve, who attended a Trump rally Wednesday in Duluth, Minnesota. “I think it’s being handled appropriately and they are just seeing a different way to put a bad light on the president.”
She and Inman, like many Trump supporters, blamed the separations on the border-crossers rather than the president.
“The mamas and daddies are responsible for that,” said Inman, a 55-year-old truck driver. “I feel sorry for the kids ... but why can’t we protect our borders the way other countries protect theirs?”
John Trandem, 42, who owns an automotive services company near Fargo, North Dakota, said he has supported all of Trump’s decisions during the border controversy.
“He’s not a monster as he’s being framed by the media and by the left,” said Trandem, who was a delegate at the 2016 Republican convention where Trump clinched the nomination for president. “Nobody wants to see parents and children separated, but ... the blame should be put squarely back on the shoulders of the people who broke the law in the first place.”
Enforcement of immigration laws, though, happens at the president’s discretion.
Under the Obama administration, families that crossed illegally usually were referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation. In April, Trump’s administration adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy, choosing to prosecute such crossings as crimes, meaning that any minors accompanying that person were taken away.
Trump and Nielsen misled the public by denying that separating families was a result of Trump’s policy — and many believed them.
“The main thing Trump is saying is he wants to obey the law, and the law has been passed years ago,” said Mary Broecker, a Republican voter from LaGrange, Kentucky.
Now that he reversed course, “it sounds like he’s kind of giving in a little bit if he’s going to take the families and find a place to house them,” Broecker said, adding it would “give them a room and a bathroom and a sink and everything, which is probably better than what they have had.”
Trump voter Terry Welch of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, said he blames Congress and its GOP leadership for not reforming immigration laws, though he admits he doesn’t like Trump as a person.
“It’s a terrible situation,” Welch, 43, said of the distraught children. “I think everybody believes that.”
Still, he said the president’s dramatic reversal on separating children won’t solve anything: “I see that as placating people.”
In Cincinnati, Andrew Pappas said the family separations worked because they got Congress talking about immigration reform.
“The optics of what’s happening here directly at the border isn’t something that he wants to have on his watch, but at the end of the day, he still wants to focus the attention of Congress on the fundamental need for immigration reform in the United States,” said Pappas, 53.
“Now...everyone’s talking about immigration reform and I think President Trump is getting exactly what he wants.”