Trump signs executive order to keep families together

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President Donald Trump says he “didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
USA TODAY

President Donald Trump, facing a national outcry, signed an executive order Wednesday designed to keep migrant families together at the U.S.-Mexico border, abandoning his earlier claim that the crisis was caused by an iron-clad law and not a policy that he could reverse.

The order was drafted by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and directs her department to keep families together after they are detained crossing the border illegally. 

“We are going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” Trump said in signing the order. “This will solve that problem.” 

The order says the “zero tolerance” prosecution policy will continue, which contradicts Trump’s statement last week that the problem of family separations could not be resolved by an executive order. The president also suggested Wednesday that the move would be accompanied by efforts to pass immigration legislation.

U.S. bases can be used for detained migrants

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis says the Pentagon will “respond if requested” to house migrants detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. In Trump’s new executive order, the defense secretary is instructed to take all available measures to provide to the Department of Homeland Security any existing facilities for the housing and care of “alien families” or to build them if necessary. When a reporter noted that federal agencies have assessed four military bases for potential use as temporary housing for detained migrants, including unaccompanied children, Mattis said the Pentagon will “support whatever” the Department of Homeland Security says it needs. In the meantime, he said, this is not a matter for the Pentagon to comment on. 

Ryan says he has a legislative fix

It was not clear how the executive order would affect plans by House Speaker Paul Ryan to hold on to a comprehensive immigration bill Thursday that would also address the emotional issue of family separation.

Ryan said the legislative fix would keep families together, under DHS custody, when they are being prosecuted for illegally crossing the border.

Graphic: What happened to immigrant children at the US border

More: Why are immigrant children being separated from parents? All your questions answered

More: ‘He’s all I have left’: Immigrants crossing into US unaware, stunned by family separations

More: Fact check: What’s really going on with immigrant children being detained at the border?

“We can enforce immigration laws without breaking families apart,” Ryan, R-Wisc., said Wednesday. He said it was a “false choice” to suggest a need to pick between enforcing border security and keeping families together.

The measure to end the separation of migrant families would be part of a bill addressing broader immigration issues, including funding the president’s border wall and protecting young immigrant “Dreamers,” who have been living in the U.S. illegally since childhood, from deportation.

Although Ryan says Trump supports the measure, it was unclear whether it could pass, and a more conservative bill seems even less likely to garner enough votes to pass.

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Two fathers attempting to cross the border into the U.S. share their motivation and their fears about making the journey as they risk being separated from their children due to the ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy.
USA TODAY

Airlines reject flying separated kids 

American Airlines, United, Southwest, Frontier and Delta have asked the federal government to refrain from using their airlines to transport children separated from their family under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

American said Wednesday that the Trump policy does not align with its company values. “We bring families together, not apart,” American said in a statement. At United Airlines, CEO Oscar Munoz said that while he had not found any evidence that children separated from their parents had been flown on United aircraft, the company requested that federal officials not do so in the future. Frontier, in pulling out, said it “prides itself on being a family airline.” Southwest echoed the sentiment, saying, “We are a company founded on love, and we want to connect people to what’s important in their lives, not disconnect them.”

Delta issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, “recent reports of families being separated are disheartening and do not align with Delta’s core values. 

Tyler Houlton, a DHS spokesman, called the airlines’ decision “unfortunate.” He said, “(B)uckling to a false media narrative only exacerbates the problems at our border and puts more children at risk from traffickers.”

Separate bill in the Senate

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters after a closed-door Senate GOP lunch Tuesday: “We’ve got a problem, we need to fix it. And we’re going to work on that.”

Republicans are rallying behind narrow legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their hearings and possible deportation proceedings. McConnell says he is reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan backing.

With few legislative solutions in sight, opposition ranged from formal statements by politicians and public groups to vocal protesters confronting the head of the Department of Homeland Security at an upscale Washington, D.C., Mexican restaurant. 

Babies, young children sent to ‘tender age’ shelter 

Babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border are being sent to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, according to The Associated Press. Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described playrooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety, but that means information about their welfare can be limited. The three centers – in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville – have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5 years old. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Ex-immigration chief: Some kids separated permanently 

The former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tells NBC News that migrant parents separated from their children at the border are sometimes unable to relocate their child and remain permanently separated. John Sandweg, who was acting director of ICE under the Obama administration from 2013-2014, says of permanent separation: “It happens.” His warning contradicts White House statements that the separation of women and children migrants under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy is only temporary. While a parent can quickly move from detention to deportation, a child’s case for asylum or deportation may not be heard by a judge for several years because deporting a child is a lower priority for the courts, Sandweg explains.

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