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Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

President Trump tweeted this morningagain — incorrectly claiming that the current practice of separating undocumented children from their parents when they cross the border stems from a "law" passed by Democrats.

Why it matters: While a later court decision on a deal reached by a Democratic president opened the legal possibility of separating children immigrants from their parents, only the Trump administration decided to take advantage of the ruling and enforce the practice.

The backstory: It all starts with two mechanisms from the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations designed to protect undocumented children who arrived at the border:

  1. The Flores Settlement was agreed to in 1997 by the Clinton administration following lawsuits against poor conditions in child immigrant shelters. The agreement required unaccompanied minors to be released from detention and placed with their parents, relatives or the "least restrictive" shelter.
  2. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) was passed in 2008 and mandated how undocumented immigrants under the age of 18 who crossed the border without their parents should be treated, in order to protect them from trafficking situations. This included releasing child immigrants from detention within 3 days and evaluating the danger and risks of being trafficked before returning them to their home country.

Yes, but: a more recent federal court ruling left the door open for the Trump administration's current policy:

  • In 2015, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled the Flores Settlement applied to both accompanied or unaccompanied minors — but did not apply to their parents. This eliminated the possibility of keeping whole families in detention long term, because the children were not permitted to be there, thanks to the previously instituted protections. Therefore, immigration enforcement could either release the whole family into the U.S. — or release the children and keep the parents in detention.
  • Leon Fresco, an immigration lawyer who argued on behalf of the government in 2015, warned at the time that the decision could lead to future administrations forcibly separating child migrants from their parents, he told Axios. Fresco said that the idea seemed too far-fetched at the time, "but I knew people like that. And now those people are in power."

The bottom line: The recent practice of separating migrant families is due to the Trump administration's decision to institute a "zero-tolerance" policy at the border. And while the mechanisms that allowed the Trump administration to institute its policy came about under Democratic administrations, they are not "law" and could be changed at any time.

Go deeper: Reality check: The facts behind the “missing” immigrant children

Go deeper

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

2 hours ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.

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