Trump orders halt to family separations
WASHINGTON – Agence France-Presse
President Donald Trump has ordered an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents on the U.S. border, reversing a tough policy under heavy pressure from his fellow Republicans, Democrats and the international community.
The spectacular about-face comes after more than 2,300 children were stripped from their parents and adult relatives after illegally crossing the border since May 5 and placed in tent camps and other facilities, with no way to contact their relatives.
Despite the order, there was no plan in place to reunite the thousands of children already separated from their families, according to multiple U.S. media reports citing officials from the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).
Those youngsters would remain separated while their parents were under federal custody during immigration proceedings, according to The New York Times, before officials backed off those comments late on June 20.
“It is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter,” said Brian Marriott, senior director of communications at HHS’s Administration of Children and Families.
“Reunification is always the ultimate goal,” he said.
Pictures and accounts of the separations sparked outrage and a rebellion among Republicans in Trump’s own party, as well as international accusation that the U.S. was committing human rights violations.
“What we have done today is we are keeping families together,” Trump said as he signed the executive order. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
At a later campaign-style rally of supporters in the northern state of Minnesota, he reiterated that the change does not mean a softening at the border.
“We will keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough,” he said.
Trump then accused rival Democrats of putting “illegal immigrants before they put American citizens.”
For weeks, Trump had insisted he was bound by law to split the children from their parents and that only Congress could resolve the problem -- before he radically shifted gears.
His daughter and advisor Ivanka had reportedly urged her father to end the separations, while First Lady Melania Trump made a rare political plea, saying the country needs to govern “with heart.”
“We want security for our country,” the president said on June 20. “And we will have that -- at the same time, we have compassion.”
The order says the Department of Homeland Security -- and not the Justice and Health and Human Services Departments, as under previous policy -- would have continuing responsibility for the families.
It also suggests the government intends to hold the families indefinitely by challenging an existing statute, the 1997 Flores Settlement, that places a 20-day limit on how long children, alone or with their parents, can be detained.
That move could lead to new legal battles for the administration.
Trump said there was a need to sustain his “zero tolerance” policy to prevent crime, which he blames illegal immigrants for.
“We still have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for and we don’t want,” he said.