President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday halting his administration’s practice of separating undocumented parents suspected of crossing the border illegally from their children.
Trump said last Friday he would be unable to remedy the situation through executive action, variously blaming Congress and Democrats for his practice. It is unclear what has changed as well as what will become of the over 2,000 children who have already been taken from their parents.
“It’s about keeping families together,” Trump said at the White House as he signed the order.
Trump earlier Wednesday said the then-looming action “ultimately will be matched by legislation” after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the House will vote Thursday on a bill to end the practice.
Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy refers all apprehended undocumented adults for criminal prosecution — a break with past administrations that limited criminal referral for most adults who illegally crossed into the U.S. with their juvenile family members.
The children, who are not charged with a crime, were separated as a result of their parents’ criminal case. As a matter of regulation, they were not allowed to be detained with their parents during legal proceedings.
Trump maintained Wednesday that the administration will continue to prosecute all adults who illegally cross into the United States.
“We’re going to have very strong borders, but we’re going to keep families together,” he said.
Trump said he did not like “the sight or the feeling” of the separations that have stirred widespread opposition to his administration’s practice.
“What we have done today is we are keeping families together. The borders are just as tough, just as strong,” he said.
Images have been steadily released since they began to be disseminated over the weekend of children being held in chain-link metal cages, exacerbating what was already a flurry of controversy.
Trump and his top officials attempted to justify their action by saying it was required by law, but no such law exists.
The president also attempted to blame Democrats for his practice, but they and several prominent Republicans were adamant that the administration could easily halt its action independent of outside action, which Trump eventually did.
The executive order Trump signed requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members” to the extent the law permits and insofar as the department has funding.
Ryan, who met with Trump along with other House Republicans on Tuesday, said the legislation that will be voted on tomorrow will allow “families to remain together under DHS custody throughout the length of their legal proceedings” and will boost DHS funding to bolster its ability to house and care for families.
One possible reason for Trump’s about-face may very well be his wife. Melania Trump issued a rare policy statement over the weekend in which she split with her husband over the administration’s policy.
She had since been vigorously lobbying the president to change the policy,