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4:53 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

Border measures part of Trump’s bigger immigration crackdown

In this June 20, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border caught the attention of the world and prompted mass outrage, but it only tells a small part of the story surrounding the Trump administration’s immigration policy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, file)

In this June 20, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border caught the attention of the world and prompted mass outrage, but it only tells a small part of the story surrounding the Trump administration’s immigration policy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, file)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border caught the attention of the world and prompted mass outrage, but it only tells a small part of the story surrounding the Trump administration's immigration policy.

In reality, the government is working to harden the system on multiple fronts to curb immigration, carving a path around various court rulings to do so. The administration is seeking to lock up families indefinitely, expand detention space and tighten asylum rules and apply more scrutiny to green card applications.

Many of the initiatives received little attention during the chaos over separated families, but they show how determined President Donald Trump is to stop immigrants from coming – both legally and illegally – even in cases where the administration has been stymied by the courts.

Other administrations may have faced similar problems with illegal immigration and tried similar solutions, but all have been unable to stem the flow of migrants streaming through southern border. No other president, however, has campaigned so vociferously on the topic.

"The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," President Donald Trump declared days before putting an end to the separation of parents from their children. "Not on my watch."

This week's headlines were dominated by stories of reunions of immigrant parents and their young children that the Trump administration had to carry out under a court order. The White House said it "worked tirelessly" to complete the reunifications and make sure the children were put back into safe homes.

In the same week, however, the administration made other moves to clamp down on immigrant families, asylum seekers and those seeking green cards.

The administration's attempts to deter Central American families and children from making the trip north are designed to send the message to immigrants – and Trump's supporters in an election year – that reaching the United States is going to get harder, and so will getting papers to stay in the country legally.

"All of these things, I think, are part of a bigger ultimate aim, which is to significantly reduce immigration of all kinds to the United States over the longer term, and in the process, the real desire is to change the character of the country," said Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Clinton administration.

Before departing the White House this week for his European trip, Trump offered his own solution for the government missing a court-mandated deadline to reunite some families: "Don't come to our country illegally."

In Europe, the president hasn't shied away from offering his views on the flow of immigration across the pond. Trump pressed ahead with his complaints that European immigration policies are changing the "fabric of Europe" and destroying European culture. He reiterated a position he articulated in a British tabloid where he said: "I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad."

The Trump administration announced plans in April to prosecute illegal border crossers with the crime of improper entry, and in doing so, jailed some parents caught on the border and placed their children in government custody. The U.S. government was sued and the public was outraged, prompting Trump to halt the separations.

The chaos over the separations has put the administration in the difficult position of having to release families with ankle-monitoring bracelets into the public – a practice Trump has decried – while at the same time attempting a series of legal maneuvers to argue for tougher enforcement capabilities.

That's because two court cases in California restrict what the government can do in carrying out hardline immigration policies. One requires the government to release immigrant children generally after 20 days in detention. The other has banned the separation of families and placed the government under tight deadlines to reunite parents and children.

In an attempt to comply with both rulings, the White House wants to present families with a choice: Stay together in detention or release the child to a government program for immigrant youth for potential placement with a relative while the parent remains locked up.

It's unclear whether the administration has enough detention beds to do so, but it's looking. Homeland Security has formally requested 12,000 beds for family detention, with 2,000 beds to be made available immediately at U.S. military bases. The Defense Department has said it also received a request to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied immigrant children.

Officials are also seeking to send immigrants back to their countries sooner and make it harder for them to seek asylum in a backlogged courts system where it can take years to get a ruling. Trump officials say too many people are claiming they are persecuted when they are not, adding that only 20 percent of asylum claims are granted.