UPDATE, 3:34 p.m. Eastern Time: President Trump signed an executive order halting his own family separation policy Wednesday afternoon. He noted that the original zero-tolerance immigration policy his administration implemented in April would remain in effect.
“We’re keeping families together and this will solve that problem,” he said, speaking to reporters at the White House. “At the same time, we’re keeping a very powerful border. It continues to be…zero-tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”
Trump added that, because of his decision, there would be “a lot of happy people” and painted the reversal as heroic.
“This has been going on for 60 years,” he claimed falsely. “Nobody has taken care of it. Nobody has had the political courage to take care of it. We’re going to.”
There is no law that requires officials to separate families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The practice of forcibly removing children from their parents and holding them in detention facilities is one the Trump administration itself came up with earlier this year.
The order, “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” instructs the Attorney General’s office to “promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions,” thereby allowing officials to keep immigrant families detained in prison facilities together throughout criminal proceedings.
EARLIER: President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would sign an executive order, mandating that families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border would be kept together during processing rather than separated while the adults are referred for prosecution — a policy his own administration implemented back in April.
The decision to sign such an order marks a reversal for the president, who has falsely contended for weeks his hands were tied by a never-identified “law” imposed by Democrats, precluding the possibility that he could end the policy with the stroke of a pen.
“We want security for our country,” he said, speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “The Republicans want security, and insist on security for our country. And we will have that at the same time we have compassion, we want to keep families together. It’s very important.”
Moments later he added, “We want to keep families together, but we want to be strong on the border. Otherwise, you’ll have millions of people coming up — not thousands, but millions — overtaking the country and we’re not letting that happen. So we have to be very strong on the border. But at the same time, we want to be very compassionate.”
The president’s decision to issue the order comes amid heightened scrutiny over the administration’s abusive child separation policy, which forcibly removes children and young infants from their parents, holding them in “tender age” facilities that effectively serve as internment camps. Photos of children and families being housed in chain-link cages as they await processing, as well as audio recordings of children sobbing and crying for their parents, published by ProPublica, prompted outcry both among the public and on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans and nearly all Democrats decried the conditions as inhumane.
Although both the president and his supporters have claimed they are simply enforcing the law, there is no law in place that requires the border agents to separate families. The new policy is a change from past administrations, which prosecuted unauthorized border crossings as misdemeanor federal offenses and did not refer those claiming asylum.
“The Democrats forced that law upon our nation,” Trump told reporters as recently as last week.
Trump’s sudden surrender also comes as human rights groups condemn the administration for carrying out egregious practices.
“The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations’ top human rights official said Monday, speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council. “…People do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa. I deplore the adoption by many countries of policies intended to make themselves as inhospitable as possible by increasing the suffering of many already vulnerable people.”
Some have contended that Trump need not have waited to end his administration’s family separation policy through an executive order. On June 15, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN’s Kate Bolduan, “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call.”
“I’ll go tell him: If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell DHS, ‘Stop doing it,’” he added.
Trump’s executive order has been questioned by immigration activists who say stopping the family separation policy is merely a Trojan horse for a different abusive policy.
As The New York Times reported Wednesday, the order is expected to try and circumvent the current Flores settlement, a 1997 federal consent decree that requires immigrant children be released from detention after 20 days. There is no requirement in that settlement that says parents cannot be released from detention with them.
The order, according to the Times, would reportedly mandate instead that children and parents be kept together in detention facilities — meaning that youths whose parents are being held in immigration prison for longer lengths of time would not be required to be released, but would be kept in detention for as long as the government chooses.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s order will remedy that loophole or exploit it.
“An executive order that ends family separation at the border will mean detaining parents alongside their children in family detention centers, which have existed for a long time and are f—king rife with abuse,” Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez tweeted shortly after the president’s announcement. “Families have been denied medical care and proper nutrition. Children have been abused. Children have witnessed the sexual assaults of other detained parents. There are long-term psychological effects of detaining children, even if they are detained with their parents.”
On Wednesday, Trump appeared confident about the decision, despite the public skepticism.
“I saw images that were horrible, and you know the ones I’m talking about,” he said, referring to photos distributed by his own administration, showing children being held in chain-link cages. “We’re going see if we can solve the immigration problem like we’ve solved so many other problems. And I think we’ll get it done.”