By Tessa Berenson
June 22, 2018

President Donald Trump explicitly compared the tragedy of families whose relatives have been killed by undocumented immigrants to the family separations at the border, saying that the “angel families” are “permanently separated” from their family members.

“These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones, the word ‘permanently’ being the one you have to think about,” Trump said Friday afternoon at an event with the family members. “They’re not separated for a day or two days. They’re permanently separated.”

The event came at the end of a controversial week for Trump and his Administration’s immigration policies. Public backlash grew over a “zero-tolerance” policy that led to the separation of families at the southern border, and on Wednesday, Trump signed an Executive Order to end family separations by detaining children and parents together.

Read More: Trump Backed Down, But the Crisis at the Border Is Far From Over

But Trump and some of the grieving family members he appeared with on Friday attempted to cast perspective on the border separations by discussing their own tragedies. “We weren’t lucky enough to be separated for five days [or] ten days, we’re separated permanently,” said Laura Wilkerson, whose 18-year-old son was killed in 2010. “Any time we want to see or be close to our kids, we go to the cemetery, because that’s where they are.”

Trump often brought members of “angel families” to events with him during his presidential campaign, and he continued to showcase them at Friday’s event to spur action on his signature campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration. “Your loss will not have been in vain,” he told the group. “We will secure our borders… We’re going to have a safe country and your loved ones are going to be playing— and will continue to play— a big part in it.” (Data disputes the notion that immigrants raise crime rates in the U.S.)

Trump also promoted the office his Administration created at the Department of Homeland Security dealing with immigrant crime called VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement). He said VOICE, launched last year by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was set up to help victims receive information on their perpetrators.

As Congress struggles to bridge bitter divides on immigration policy, family members at the event also hoped their stories would encourage politicians to pass immigration reform. “Let’s work together and get this done, all politicians, I don’t care what side you’re on,” said Sabine Durden, the mother of another victim. “You don’t want your child in a casket or in an urn. So get it together for God’s sake for this country. For our citizens.”

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