President Donald Trump ordered an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents on the US border today, 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. 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 US 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.” Trump said that even with the change, border enforcement will be “equally tough, if not tougher.” For weeks, Trump had insisted he was bound by the law to split the children from their parents and that only Congress could resolve the problem — before he radically shifted gears. “We want security for our country,” Trump said. “And we will have that — at the same time, we have compassion, we want to keep families together.”
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, along 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 remain tough to prevent crime. “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.