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Trump acknowledges 'zero tolerance' immigration policy 'hurts people'

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Thursday admitted his immigration policies are "hurting people," and signaled he mulled Boeing's export business before he bowed to pressure and grounded two models of its 737 airliners after a second deadly crash.

The president's comments came in response to an Irish reporter in town with his country's prime minister for annual St. Patrick's Day festivities at the Capitol and White House. That reporter asked Trump in the Oval Office if he sees his own immigration policies as "cruel."

"No, I don't think they're cruel. I think they're the opposite of cruel," Trump said, though he quickly contradicted himself.

"They become cruel because they're so ridiculous, and it hurts people," he said, appearing to conflate his own policies and long-standing U.S. laws that he has derided since becoming a candidate and then president. "It actually does the reverse of what they're supposed to be doing."

The president's blunt assessment came one week after House Democrats grilled Trump administration officials over the "zero tolerance" immigration policy announced last year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Under that policy, Sessions wrote in a 2017 memo, any person caught entering the United States illegally must face "the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice." It has led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border.

"I really think that what we're talking about is state-sponsored child abuse, and I would go as far as to say kidnapping of children," said Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois during a Feb. 7 House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee hearing.

Senior Trump administration officials have responded to such critiques by saying Session's memo merely moved federal agencies into a position of strictly enforcing existing laws.

Trump took questions on a range of topics before the duo departed for the Capitol for the annual "Friends of Ireland" luncheon.

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Among the most noteworthy also was his signaling that he also considered Boeing's business deals as watched most Western countries and a number of others ground new models of the company's 737 airliner after a Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia, killing everyone onboard. It was the second such crash shortly after takeoff, and a number of American pilots have complained about the aircraft's computerized systems.

"It's a great company, it's a truly great company and hopefully they'll figure it out very quickly," Trump told reporters. "It's also one of our largest exporters, one of the truly great companies of the world. They have to figure it out fast. They know that. They are under great pressure."

A day after ordering all Max 8 and 9 models grounded, "effective immediately" and until further notice, the president said he hopes the planes are out of service only for "a short period of time."

Even though he waited a day longer than other countries -- except Canada -- to ground the jets, Trump painted himself as erring on the side of caution.

"The biggest thing is they (Boeing officials) have to find out what it is. I'm not sure that they know," he said. "But I thought we had to do it. We had to take a cautionary route."

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