President Donald Trump ambiguously signed an executive order on Wednesday, June 20, that he said would keep migrant families together while they are awaiting criminal prosecution on the U.S.-Mexico border. His administration has recently come under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike for the cruel practice which resulted from a "zero tolerance" policy that eliminated all legal leniency toward first-time offenders, asylum-seekers, and parents with small children. So, what's in Trump's executive order on separating families at the border? It's pretty vague at this point. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment on the executive order, but did not hear back before publication.
What is known, however, is that Trump is apparently not backing down from his "zero tolerance" policy of criminally prosecuting all adults who cross U.S. borders illegally.
"It's about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure that we have a very powerful very strong border, and border security will be equal if not greater than previously," Trump told reporters as he signed the executive order. "So we're going to have strong very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together. I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. It's a problem that's gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations. And we're working very hard on immigration, it's just been left out in the cold. People haven't dealt with it, and we are dealing with it."
It's the latest bizarre move in what has been a bizarre several days of Trump and his officials scrambling to deal with the fallout from the stark images of crying children being ripped from their parents at the border.
As CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins noted on Twitter, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stood beside Trump at the signing of the order, which effectively takes action against a policy that she denied existed several days ago. (Nielsen tweeted on Sunday, June 17, that "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.")
The two goals Trump outlined at the signing of his executive order are conflicting, as has been reported ad nauseam at this point. Without an end to the "zero tolerance" policy, it's unclear how Trump plans to get around a 1997 court settlement that places significant limits on the detention of children by U.S. immigration authorities, per BuzzFeed.
Technically, there is no Trump administration law stating that illegal border crossers must be separated from their children. But it is because of the “zero tolerance” policy — instituted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions of the Trump administration — that immigrants are being taken into federal criminal custody, and it is because of the Trump administration that their children are then considered unaccompanied minors and are taken away to detention camps. In a matter of days, the Trump administration has delivered chaotically inconsistent messaging and misinformation about the root cause of the uptick in detained children.
During a press conference on Monday, June 18, Nielsen made a broad case for why the administration needed to be tougher in enforcing immigration laws. During the press conference, she said only Congress making broad changes to those laws would result in a change to the way the administration carries out its enforcement.
In other words, without comprehensive immigration reform — which Congress has not been able to achieve across multiple administrations — the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy would persist. (Meanwhile, Nielsen's argument that only Congress could change the administration's enforcement was disproven by Trump's own action in signing the executive order on Wednesday.)
"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," the executive order reads. "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."
With the executive order, it's also unclear exactly when it will go into effect, and how. Early reports did not have any details about how the thousands of families who have already been separated would be reunited.
Whew. What a year this week has been. It's only Wednesday, my dudes.