President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to bring an end to the Obama-era policy of separating families at the border. Trump signed the order flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence.
“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” said Trump who said he didn’t like the “sight” or “feeling” of children separated from their parents.
The order will not end the zero-tolerance policy but will prohibit detained parents from being separated from their children. It will keep families together for the next few weeks while they are in custody. The order will also ask the Defense Department to help house the families. It will not affect the estimated 2,300 children already taken from their families.
The separation of families began under the Obama administration and is a part of a law created by Congress. In recent weeks the media has erroneously reported that it was solely a Trump administration “policy.” In 2014, the Obama administration held 24,000 children separated form their families–far fewer than the current 2,200 under Trump. That 2014 separation did not garner the media attention, nor outcry from activists as what the current implementation has done.
Under the Trump administration, only individuals who entered the country illegally were detained and separated. Families that followed the law and applied for asylum at a port of entry were kept together.
The order reads:
“Section 1. It is the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce our immigration laws. Under our laws, the only legal way for an alien to enter this country is at a designated port of entry at an appropriate time…It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources. It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.”
The order does have provisions for families that may pose a threat to each other or other families if not separated:
“Sec. 3 (b) The Secretary shall not, however, detain an alien family together when there is a concern that detention of an alien child with the child’s alien parent would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.”
The order also calls the Secretary of Defense to support the Secretary of Homeland Security in requests for housing and aid aboard military bases for the immigrant families.
The controversial separations have spiked significantly since April after the DOJ’s zero-tolerance policy was enacted and have led many activists to demand policy reform. Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and other church leaders have spoken out strongly on the matter but haven’t touched on the intricacies of the entire situation.
In Monday’s White House press briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen explained in vast detail how families are processed, who is actually separated, the length and conditions of their separations, and how separations may be avoided.
While many members of Congress are drafting their own bills, the White House’s executive action will allow children to stay in detention centers with their parents for an extended period of time, a privilege struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997.
Currently, a child cannot be detained for more than 20 days alone or with their family. This executive order will loosen the 20-day limit. Because of this court ruling, the executive decision could be seen as rogue to the judicial system. However, considering the trauma caused to young children in these separations, the White House wanted to move forward with some form of change.
Addressing the 9th Circuit’s ruling, the order states:
“(e) The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions, CV 85-4544 (“Flores settlement”), in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”
Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference praised the president for his actions while expressing disappointment that it had to be done executively.
“I join with millions of Americans of all political persuasions in expressing my relief that our country’s collective crescendo of horror at seeing families separated at our southern border has led this administration to urgently advance an executive order to keep families intact during processing…That being said, I think once again leaning only on presidential executive orders to fix our failing immigration system would be an egregious mistake that will only create additional crises in the future. Let us not settle for so little when it comes to reform.”
Nielsen made a strong point in that many families who come to the border have no formal documentation or way of proving their relationship. Given the fact that a huge human trafficking venue exists on the border, it is imperative that border agents filter families from traffickers. While separated, children are provided with shelter, food, and necessary medical attention.
Trump demanded Congress to draft legislation that ends the separations of families while also maintaining support for one of his primary campaign promises, a wall intended to cease illegal immigration. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that President Trump does not need Congress to act and that Trump should do it himself.
While Trump has in fact taken executive action, questions still stand as to the long-term implications of this order and may eventually need a congressional measure to take place. Because of tensions in Congress, legislative measures are not likely to pass, considering the narrow margins in the Senate and the need for 60 votes.