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Trump signs executive order ending child separation at U.S. border

Jun 21 2018

by Stephen Johnson – BIG THINK

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that calls for officials to stop separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We’re going to keep families together but 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 that we don’t want,” Trump said.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

However, Trump said the order doesn’t fully upend his administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

“We are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

It’s a stark reversal by the Trump administration, which has repeatedly and incorrectly insisted its hands were tied and “Congress alone” could change the policy.

“Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday at a White House press briefing. “Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.”

She was wrong on all points.

It’s true that there was no codified law ordering the separation of immigrant children from their families, but the separations were an inevitable consequence of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, issued by the Department of Justice, that called for the criminal prosecution of all border-crossing immigrants. Adult immigrants who were prosecuted were sent to federal jail where they couldn’t bring children with them. In the past, families stayed together because they were held in immigrant detention.

Also, as Wednesday’s order proves, the president did have power to direct officials to stop family separations. Even Senate Republicans, who reportedly met with the president prior to his announcement, had voiced this fact. Senator Lindsey Graham, for instance, told CNN that Trump could fix this whole problem “with a phone call.”

The news comes as a surprise to many, even among insiders. According to a comment given to Politico by a former Department of Homeland Security official, not even the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement legal team was informed about the decision.

“It sounds like they blindsided everybody,” the person said. “What changed in the last 12, 24 hours? … Either you believe that, operationally, this is what you need to be doing, or you don’t.”

The most obvious reason for the reversal is the massive public backlash against the policy. As images of crying children being separated from their families go viral, and as a Facebook fundraiser to help immigrant families obtain aid and legal services has raised more than $5 million over several days, it’s not hard to see how this has been a political nightmare for the administration and the GOP, especially with midterm elections approaching.

The order also marks a rare instance of surrender by the administration, as Aaron Blake wrote for the Washington Post.

“Rarely has the White House so tacitly and unmistakably admitted to overplaying its hand,” Blake wrote. “And rarely has it so blatantly copped to its own dishonesty about its actions. Nielsen, in particular, has a lot of explaining to do. But this whole thing is an extremely ugly chapter. And it makes clear that, from Day One, this was a political gambit to force an immigration bill through. It didn’t work.”

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Annex:

Child separations: what does Trump’s order actually mean?

Peter Beaumont – The Guardian

Attempt to calm outcry over his ‘zero-tolerance’ border policy raises further questions

What does the executive order signed by Donald Trump mean?

While Trump has said he does not like seeing families separated, the practical impact of his executive order remains highly confusing, not least for some 2,300 children who have already been caught up in the “zero-tolerance” policy announced by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in April.

In theory, the intent of the executive order is to keep children who have crossed the border with their parents while in custody. However, the order is likely to face a swift legal challenge – as the White House has itself suggested – over an existing ruling that says children may not be held in detention for more than 20 days.

Privately, officials in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)believe there is not enough capacity to hold families together because its facilities are already full. This will leave the Trump administration in the same position as that of Barack Obama during a similar spike of families at the border in 2014.

What does this mean for children already separated?

It is unclear what will happen to the children already separated, though some DHS officials have suggested there is no provision for including them in the ruling. Both court officials and the DHS appear unsure about how family reunification will be achieved. Some critics have suggested the policy of separation may have already “orphaned” a number of children from their parents.

Does this mean Trump has backed down?

All the evidence suggests the Trump administration was using its toxic policy as leverage to try to persuade Congress to pass immigration legislation, including funding for Trump’s controversial wall on the Mexican border. In that sense it is a huge defeat for Trump, not least because of the deep Republican divisions over the shape of any immigration bill. Trump is insisting, however, that the zero-tolerance policy will remain, suggesting more controversies and battles lie ahead.

Some prominent critics are also wondering whether Trump’s slapdash order – which managed to misspell the word “separation” – will make much difference. The Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, believes Trump’s order does nothing but “replace one form of child abuse with another … Instead of protecting traumatised children, the president has directed his attorney general to pave the way for the long-term incarceration of families in prison-like conditions.”

And according to the Washington Post, the DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told politicians during a private briefing that the family separations could resume if they fail to pass legislation. Thu 21 Jun 2018

 

 

 

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