Trump Reverses Migrant Separation Policy

Geraldine Edwards
June 23, 2018

In signing an executive order Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he was ending the practice of separating children from parents who cross the U.S. -Mexico border illegally. Justice Department lawyers were planning to file a challenge to the Flores settlement, which requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference. While a Department of Health and Human Services official initially stated that the department is not to apply the executive order to children now in HHS custody, a statement released later Wednesday said that HHS that it is "awaiting guidance on the matter". Curbelo said that Nielsen pledged to work to reunite children now separated from their parents "as soon as possible". And Ivanka Trump was in California this week, getting heckled on her way to a fundraiser for Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

"I did not like the sight of families being separated", he said, but added the administration would continue its "zero tolerance policy" of criminally prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally.

"We're going to have strong - very strong - borders, but we are going to keep the families together", Trump said moments before signing the order at a White House event. "I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it". This is a change from the administration's previous policy, under which adults being prosecuted for illegal entry were held separate from minors with whom they may have entered.

But despite the presidential pomp - Trump gave Nielsen the marker he used to sign the order - the president's action is unlikely to completely fix the problem.

The executive order was a rare instance of the president retreating from a decision, and he sought to tamp down any suggestion of having done so.

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The House killed a hard-right immigration bill, and Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package with the party's lawmakers fiercely divided over an issue that has long confounded them.

The more conservative bill from Republican lawmaker Bob Goodlatte also would deny the chance of future citizenship to "Dreamers", who are immigrants brought illegally into the United States years ago as children.

The effort was a dramatic shift for an administration that had insisted, wrongly, that it had no choice but to separate families caught at the border because of the law and a court ruling. It allows the Department of Homeland Security to detain families together "under present resource constraints".

That is more politically hospitable ground for Republicans, who already face challenging mid-term congressional elections.

Trump made the decision after media and rights groups shined on a light on conditions that children were being held under as a result of the administration's "zero tolerance" policy. As children can not legally be jailed with their parents, they are kept in separate facilities. Perhaps more importantly, 70 percent of women disapprove, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken June 14-17. Pictures of dozens of children sleeping in fenced enclosures and audio of them crying emerged in recent days, provoking widespread criticism.

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Earlier, as countries marked World Refugee Day on Wednesday, world leaders assailed Trump for the separations. Under federal statute, those charged with felonies can not have their children detained with them. U.S. officials recently showed reporters around a converted Walmart Supercenter in Texas which was housing migrant boys aged 10-17.

What they didn't know, apparently, was that the policy would horrify their own people; that Americans would recoil in shock from the images of a bawling child alone among uniformed agents. "Tender age shelters": AP news agency reports that babies and toddlers are being taken to three "tender age shelters" in southern Texas. "They must be reunited immediately". Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, calls for border wall funding and would stiffen immigration enforcement in the interior, curtail family immigration and eliminate the diversity visa program. If neither branch acts within 20 days, newly detained families may again be separated.

It is not clear what will happen if the administration is unable to secure an amendment to the Flores agreement.

"This is a stopgap measure", said Gene Hamilton, counsel to the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He did call on Congress to alleviate the plight of the separated children - but reiterated that his hands were tied.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a government agency that apprehends illegal immigrants, told Hindustan Times: "Based on information obtained by the US Border Patrol at the time of apprehension, it appears that seven detainees now housed at Sheridan may have been separated from family members". On Tuesday, a top official from the Department of Health and Human Services admitted they have no system in place to do so.

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