WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep families at the border together, amid outrage over an administration policy that has seen the separation of migrant children from their parents.
He signed the executive order at the White House before leaving for a trip to Duluth, Minn., where he was to attend a rally.
“What we have done today is, we are keeping families together. The borders are just as tough, just as strong,” he said.
He was asked about the reaction of his daughter and his wife to family separation, and said, “Ivanka feels very strongly, my wife feels very strongly about it, I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated. At the same time, we don’t want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem.”
What is unclear is what this means for the thousands of children who already have been separated from their parents, and whether they will be reunited. The executive order does not mean that the families will be freed, but that they will be detained together. It calls for the Department of Homeland Security to keep the families in custody as the adult migrants await their court proceedings.
Earlier in the week, Trump had said that it was Congress that must take action to end the practice, resisting calls from a growing number of Democrats and even Republicans to end the policy.
The outrage over the administration’s policy had been brewing for weeks, but escalated over the weekend as media outlets obtained photos of children being housed behind cage-like chain link fences. ProPublica published an audio recording of children in a facility crying for their parents, as one border agent is heard making light of the situation.
As figures like former First Lady Laura Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) condemned the border separations, Trump resisted calls to end the practice, insisting that it was Congress’ job to fix a broken immigration system. A news conference on Monday with Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, only seemed to focus greater attention on the policy and the administration’s motives for implementing it.
Democrats accused the administration of using the border separation policy as a bargaining chip in negotiations for a broader immigration reform proposal that included border security measures and funding to build a wall, a central promise Trump made during the 2016 presidential campaign.
As Trump and Nielsen continued to insist that it would take congressional action to end it, that was contracted even from some Republicans on Capitol Hill. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and a dozen other GOP senators sent a letter to Jeff Sessions on Tuesday urging him to end the policy of separation while Congress worked on a solution.
Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry into the United States in April, in which the government would seek to prosecute anyone crossing the border. That triggered the separation of more than 2,000 children at the southern border, as parents detained for prosecution were separated from their children.
What’s unclear is whether Trump’s executive order will have an impact on the “zero tolerance” policy.
Among those who have urged an end to the policy on Wednesday was Pope Francis, who wrote on Twitter that “a person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.
Corporate America also began to weigh in. Telemundo, the Spanish-language network owned by NBCUniversal, called the policy “an affront to human decency and contrary to principles and values upon which this country was founded.” Univision said that “taking such extreme actions as we’ve seen at the border is not in line with what America stands for.”
American Airlines said that it has requested that the federal government stop using the airline to transport migrant children who have been separated from their parents. “We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” the company said in a statement. United Airlines also made a similar announcement.