President Trump Retreats On Immigration Family Separations
President Donald Trump reversed course on his policy separating immigrant children from parents who cross the U.S. border illegally, signing an executive order Wednesday that he said would end the practice.
“It’s about keeping families together,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
The order directs Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to detain families together when they are apprehended after crossing the border and allows the immigrants to be housed on military bases. The directive may violate a 1997 court settlement and a 2008 law that require special handling of immigrant children.
Currently, Nielsen’s department must transfer them to the Department of Health and Human Services after 72 hours if they are unaccompanied, or release them after 20 days if they’re with parents or other caregivers.
Trump’s order included no timeline for Nielsen’s department to begin detaining families together and is silent on when or how children already taken from their parents will be reunited with them. Spokesmen for the White House and the Administration for Children and Families, which administers detention centers for youth immigrants, didn’t immediately respond to questions about the new policy.
Gene Hamilton, legal counsel to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said the Justice Department will ask a court to allow the administration to detain families for longer than 20 days.
Trump has come under intense criticism from Congress and the public over the separations, which have resulted in more than 2,000 children being placed in federal custody, according to the government. Senate Republicans were preparing to advance legislation that would prohibit the government from splitting up families apprehended after crossing the border.
Trump’s decision to end the policy himself, though, represents a rare retreat for a president who often appears to court controversy. It also calls into question many of the administration’s recent claims about the basis of the “zero tolerance” policy that was announced by Sessions in April.
“It continues to be a zero tolerance,” Trump said Wednesday. “We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”
The president and his top aides have insisted for days that they had no choice but to separate children from their parents due to unspecified U.S. laws. Trump has blamed Democrats for the policy, saying they must cooperate on legislation to end the policy. There is no law requiring children to be separated from their parents at the border, and Trump could have stopped the practice at any time.
In the end, under increasing pressure from his own party, Trump chose to do just that. He acted as it became clear that House Republicans were unable to reach consensus on either of two immigration bills they were considering that included provisions to halt family separations. House leaders still hope to have votes on both bills on Thursday.
“What we have done today is we are keeping families together,” Trump said. “The borders are just as tough, just as strong. They can come in through ports of entry if they want. That’s a whole different story. And that’s coming in through a process. and the process is what we want.”