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Trump defends border policy, meets families of crime victims

Updated June 22, 2018 - 6:39 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lashed out against critics of his “zero tolerance” immigration policy Friday at a White House event that included 14 “angels” — a term for families whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants.

“These are the families the media ignores,” Trump charged, later adding, “No major networks sent cameras to their homes.”

As undocumented immigrant parents separated from their children at the border began to be reunited, the White House chose to showcase parents who will never be reunited with their children.

The event – set on a stage with “Secure Our Borders” signs — showed a pugnacious president not backing down from his “zero tolerance” policy, just days after he signed an executive order to end family separations that had followed a directive to charge all adults apprehended crossing the border illegally.

“We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections,” Trump tweeted Friday morning.

Trump’s suggestion that the stories were erroneous was likely fueled by revelations Friday about one of the defining images to this point in the crisis, a 2-year-old Honduran girl crying as her mother was stopped by a Border Patrol agent. But the girl in the photograph, who ended up on the cover of Time Magazine this week, was not separated from her mother but detained with her, the child’s father told the Daily Mail. Time Magazine said it stood by the image because it captures “the stakes of this moment.”

The president also told Republicans in Congress to “stop wasting their time” crafting an immigration bill until after the November election – a reversal from his #CHANGETHELAWS tweet earlier in the week.

Work on compromise bill

On Capitol Hill on Friday, the mood was gloomy, particularly among the more centrist Republicans who have been pushing a compromise bill. That measure would provide $25 billion for Trump’s border wall and set new limits on family visas in favor of merit-based entry — but it also would create a path to citizenship for young “Dreamers.”

House GOP leaders have made it clear they do not expect the immigration bill to pass, but have little choice but to press forward with a vote next week and keep a promise made to moderate Republicans.

The “angels” issue has been a constant for Trump who, during his presidential campaign, frequently referred to Americans killed by immigrants who he argues never should not have been in the United States.

On the campaign trail, Trump frequently welcomed Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose 17-year-old son Jamiel Shaw II was murdered in 2008 by an undocumented immigrant who was a gang member. The killer wrongly believed the young African-American with a red Spiderman backpack was a member of a rival gang.

At Friday’s event, a somber Trump acknowledged a number of the 14 parents, who stood on the stage with large photos of their slain sons and daughters. To start he introduced Laura Wilkerson of Pearland, Texas, whose son Joshua was tortured and beaten to death in 2010 by an undocumented immigrant.

“We weren’t lucky enough to be separated for five days or 10 days. We’re separated permanently,” Wilkerson said. “Any time we want to see or be close to our kids, we go to the cemetery, because that’s where they are.”

Steve Ronnenbeck of Mesa, Arizona, told a similar tale. On his murdered son Grant’s birthday, Ronnenbeck said, “I go to his grave. For Christmas, we set up a Christmas tree on Grant’s grave.”

Like other parents, Ronnenbeck faulted the news media for not telling the story of his family’s loss.

Vice President Mike Pence stood with Trump. Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen sat among the parents. Border Patrol agents and law enforcement personnel also sat in the auditorium.

‘The real victims’

Californian Don Rosenberg, founder of Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime, told the Review-Journal that the White House called him about a week ago – before the executive order signing.

“This administration is interested in the real victims of illegal immigration,” he said.

Most high-profile Democrats refrained from commenting on the White House event. But Democratic strategist Paul Begala asked on CNN why Trump doesn’t have “a meeting with families of people who have been killed by right-wing white nationalist extremists.”

Another parent, Sabine Durden talked of her background as a legal immigrant who spent five years to become a citizen. “I didn’t drag him over borders, through deserts,” she said of her son Dominic. “I didn’t place him in harm’s way.”

Dominic was 30 years old when he was killed by a drunk driver. According to the Riverside, California, Press Enterprise, Juan Zacarias Tzun was in the country illegally at the time of the accident, had two DUI convictions – and still he remained in the U.S..

“The public needs to know, and they deserve to know, that this could happen to each one of you at any given second,” Durden warned.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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