President ends family separation
Families will now be kept together while in custody
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bowing to pressure from anxious allies, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed himself Wednesday and signed an executive order halting his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.
It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who has been insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.
The news in recent days has been dominated by searing images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked fury, question of morality and concern from Republicans about a negative impact on their races in November’s midterm elections.
Until Wednesday, the president, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials had repeatedly argued the only way to end the practice was for Congress to pass new legislation, while Democrats said Trump could do it with his signature alone. That’s what he did on Wednesday.
“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” said Trump, who added that he didn’t like the “sight” or “feeling” of children separated from their parents.
The order does not end the “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. It keeps families together while they are in custody, expedites their cases, and asks the Department of Defense to help house them.
Justice Department lawyers have been working to find a legal workaround for a previous class-action settlement that set policies for the treatment and release of unaccompanied children who are caught at the border. Trump’s new order states the attorney general will seek to modify the agreement, known as the Flores settlement, to allow Homeland Security to detain families together until criminal and removal proceedings are completed.
Also playing a role in the president’s turnaround: First lady Melania Trump. One White House official said Mrs. Trump had been making her opinion known to the president for some time that she felt he needed to do all he could to help families stay together, whether by working with Congress or acting on his own.
Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen traveled to Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon to brief lawmakers.