Trump Cites Democrats for Deaths, Kelly Blames Chaos on Sessions

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump on Saturday said “any deaths of children or others” in U.S. custody at the U.S.-Mexico border were “strictly the fault of the Democrats” in a sharp ramp-up of the president’s rhetoric over the proposed wall along the roughly 2,000-mile frontier.

And as operations at the border are pushed to what the top U.S. border patrol official called a “breaking point,” outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also blamed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Border Patrol needs the wall and it will all end,” Trump said in a follow-up message on Twitter, his first public comments on the deaths this month of two young Guatemalan children in the custody of U.S. border patrol agents.

The comments came a day after Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, visited two border patrol stations in El Paso, Texas. She’d announced her visit following the death of an eight-year-old boy in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol over the Christmas holiday. Earlier this month, a 7-year-old migrant died while in U.S. custody.

In comments released by the Department of Homeland Security after Friday’s inspections, Nielsen said the border system “is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis and protect vulnerable populations.”

Sick Migrants

Nielsen was traveling to Yuma, Arizona, to discuss current operations, DHS said. She announced new steps to monitor the health of migrant children on Wednesday. Border authorities have recently seen more sick migrants crossing into the U.S., DHS officials said Wednesday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents did everything they could to save the children, and the problem is thousands of migrants overwhelming a system built to handle adults, Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“The breaking point at the border is because of the volume,’’ McAleenan said.

Trump Cites Democrats for Deaths, Kelly Blames Chaos on Sessions

But the Trump administration, not Democrats, is in charge and to blame, said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming Democratic caucus chairman.

“You’ve had two young, innocent children die in American custody,” Jeffries said on ABC. “That should never occur.’’

Democrats in Congress have called for hearings to address the deaths of migrant children in the custody of CBP, and called on DHS to preserve all evidence related to the incidents. Six people died in the custody of border patrol authorities in fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30. This month’s deaths are the first of children in CBP custody in more than a decade, a DHS official told reporters this week.

Trump Cites Democrats for Deaths, Kelly Blames Chaos on Sessions

Outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly put the blame on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the Trump administration struggles with the repercussions of a zero-tolerance immigration policy that includes separating migrant children from their parents.

“He was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation,” Kelly said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Sunday. “He surprised us.”

Trump fired Sessions in November, a day after the mid-term elections.

On Friday, Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border and sought to shift blame for a partial federal government shutdown that appears likely to stretch into 2019.

“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” Trump tweeted on Friday.

There’s currently no sign of any progress toward a plan to fund nine government departments that closed after funding ran out Dec. 21. The Senate and House held brief sessions Thursday afternoon, and neither chamber took any votes.

Democrats appeared willing to wait until they take control of the House next week at the start of the new Congress. They’ve also indicated they will call various members of the Trump administration in for hearings, including Nielsen.

“As we move into the next Congress, I want to put you and your department on notice,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told Nielsen in a Dec. 20 hearing. “The time for accountability has arrived.”

Trump deflected blame for his failure to secure funds for a border wall while Republicans held majorities on the House and Senate for the past two years. “It is because IN THE SENATE WE NEED 10 DEMOCRAT VOTES,” he tweeted on Saturday.

A Democratic backlash over Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy for young individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children led to the first of three government shutdowns in 2018. A bipartisan Senate deal to legalize young undocumented people and put $25 billion toward Trump’s wall fell apart in February amid White House opposition.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.