Donald Trump Makes U-Turn, Terminates Family Separation Policy
The executive order, he said, was “about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border”
President Donald Trump has backed down after widespread criticism of an immigration policy that split families at the US border, signing an executive order that will put a stop to the practice.
The issue has plagued his administration after it was revealed that at least 2,000 children had been torn from their parents under a new “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Mr Trump said on Wednesday that the zero tolerance policy would continue, but that he “didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated”.
The executive order, he said, was “about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border”.
“I think the word ‘compassion’ comes into it, but it’s still equally as tough, if not tougher,” Mr Trump added. The day before, he had accused immigrants of “infesting” the country, and declared the US would not be a “refugee holding facility”.
Family separations have escalated under Mr Trump’s new zero tolerance policy, which requires all adults caught crossing the border illegally to be referred for prosecution. Adult immigrants facing charges are housed separately from their children, resulting in the separation of parents from children reportedly as young as eight-months-old.
But the president’s new executive order states that the US’s policy is to “maintain family unity”, except in cases where doing so would threaten a child’s wellbeing.
In the order, Mr Trump directed the secretary of homeland security to house those facing prosecution alongside their family members, “to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations”. He ordered the secretary of defence to identify any existing facilities for housing immigrant families, and to build more if necessary.
Mr Trump also directed the attorney general to request a modification of the Flores Settlement Agreement – a 2015 court ruling that the administration has claimed bars them from housing families together. It was unclear how the new executive order will square with the ruling, which requires migrant children to be released quickly from detention, or detained in the “least restrictive conditions” possible.
The president denied allegations that he was backing down from his strict stance on immigration, telling reporters at the signing that the southern border was “just as tough” as before.