More Americans Blame Undocumented Parents Than Trump For Family Separations

The White House has managed to dodge a lot of blame for a deeply unpopular policy.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday tweaking the family separation policy.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday tweaking the family separation policy.
Leah Millis / Reuters

The Trump administration’s contradictory responses to the outrage over its family separation policy may have clouded public opinion about why the families were separated and who bears responsibility, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.

The White House has gone through more than a dozen rationales, changing its story repeatedly on whether separating undocumented children from their parents at the border was an administration policy, whether it was intended as a deterrent, whether it was mandated by law and whether it could be reversed by executive order. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after defending the policy as a deterrent, claimed Thursday that the administration had never intended to separate families, noting that “the American people don’t like the idea.”

The concept of family separation does remain deeply unpopular. The latest survey, in line with past polling, found that fewer than a third of the public considered separations to be acceptable.

Those who thought the policy was acceptable were more or less evenly split between the 48 percent who said removing children from their parents was a good thing because it served as a deterrent and the 44 percent who said it wasn’t a good thing but it was necessary to carry out U.S. immigration policy. Among those who found it unacceptable, 79 percent said they were angry that the separations were happening. (The poll was conducted largely before President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday tweaking the policy to detain the children with their parents.)

There was little consensus among Americans on who bears responsibility for the separations. Just 36 percent thought the Trump administration bore at least some responsibility, several points less than the 44 percent who put at least some of the blame on undocumented parents. Slightly over a third judged the parents to hold the most responsibility; slightly under a third said the Trump administration was most responsible.


The public was also divided in how they thought the White House viewed family separation: 32 percent said the Trump administration considered it a good thing, and 29 percent said the administration considered it an unfortunate consequence of immigration policy. Another 38 percent weren’t sure or didn’t think either description was fitting.

Americans said by a relatively narrow margin, 42 percent to 35 percent, that they believed administration officials were intentionally trying to separate undocumented families. More than a fifth were unsure either way.

Responses to the unfolding drama were especially muddled among Trump voters. Nearly three-quarters of Trump voters said they found the practice of family separation acceptable, with those who did about evenly split over whether the separations were actually a good thing. Just 11 percent of them, however, thought the Trump administration was intentionally separating families, and under a quarter said the Trump administration considered the separations a good thing. Asked who should bear at least some responsibility, 83 percent named undocumented parents and 47 percent pointed at congressional Democrats, with just 8 percent blaming the White House.

Ninety-three percent of voters who supported Hillary Clinton, by contrast, considered the separations unacceptable. Ninety percent said the Trump administration was intentionally separating families and 81 percent said the administration deserved at least some responsibility for what was happening.


The survey also asked about Trump’s tweet that “illegal immigrants ... pour into and infest our Country,” although respondents weren’t told that the president was the source of the statement. Overall, Americans were evenly split, with 41 percent agreeing with that thought and 42 percent disagreeing. Seven percent of Clinton voters, 37 percent of non-voters and third-party voters, and 84 percent of Trump voters agreed with the characterization of undocumented immigrants as an infestation.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, clicking the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 19-20 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.