Trump backs down on migrant family separations policy
US President Donald Trump has bowed to public pressure and signed an executive order promising to “keep families together” in migrant detentions.
Mr Trump reversed his own policy amid international fury over the separation of undocumented parents and children.
He said he had been swayed by images of children who have been taken from parents while they are jailed and prosecuted for illegal border-crossing.
But the order does not address families already separated by the policy.
US immigration officials say 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 parents between 5 May and 9 June.
“It’s about keeping families together,” Mr Trump said at the signing ceremony on Wednesday.
“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.
More on child migrants crisis
The executive order calls for:
- Immigrant families to be detained together while their legal cases are considered
- Expediting immigration cases involving families
- Requesting the modification of a court ruling that dictates how long immigrant children can be detained
The president said his wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka, who reportedly have been applying pressure on him to drop the policy, “feel strongly” about ending the practice of separating migrant families.
“I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it,” he said. “We don’t like to see families separated.”
Vice-President Mike Pence and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has emerged as the face of the White House policy, were both present for the signing of the order on Wednesday.
Before his U-turn on Wednesday the president had previously said “you can’t do it through an executive order”, insisting that only Congress could fix the policy by passing immigration reform.
Republican congressional leader Paul Ryan said the House of Representatives will vote on Thursday “on legislation to keep families together”.
- A series of White House contradictions on migrants
- Fenced enclosures hold migrant children
He did not immediately provide details of the bill, but said it resolves the issue of so-called Dreamers, undocumented adult migrants who entered the US as children, “in a very elegant way”.
Trump backs down
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington
For days administration officials have insisted they were simply following the law as written and their “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings meant they “have to take the children away”, in the president’s words.
Critics have countered that Mr Trump unilaterally created the situation that produced the heart-rending accounts of children separated from their parents, and he could unilaterally fix it.
By taking executive action, the president is effectively acknowledging they were correct.
Now the fight will probably move to the courts, with legal challenges to the administration’s decision to hold detained families together while their immigration status is adjudicated.
That is more politically hospitable ground for Republicans, who already face challenging mid-term congressional elections.
Read more of Anthony Zurcher’s analysis
Why the uproar?
In April, the US attorney general announced a “zero-tolerance” policy to criminally charge and jail undocumented border crossers.
As children cannot legally be jailed with their parents, they are kept in separate facilities.