Trump Signs Executive Order Halting Family Separation at the Border

By Melanie Arter | June 20, 2018 | 5:38pm EDT
President Donald Trump flanked (l-r) by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence (Screenshot)

( - President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order ending the practice of separating illegal immigrant families on the U.S. border with Mexico, saying he didn’t like the sight or feeling of families being separated.

“We're signing an executive order I consider to be a very important executive order. It's about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border, and border security will be equal, if not greater than previously,” Trump said before signing the executive order, titled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation.”

“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 been left out in the cold. People haven’t dealt with it, and we are dealing with it,” the president said.

“So, step by step -- just like we dealt with North Korea, we dealt with Iran, we dealt with an economy that was heading in the wrong direction. We dealt with a lot of different problems. This is one that has been going on for many decades. So we're keeping families together, and this will solve that problem. At the same time, 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,” he said.

Vice President Mike Pence said Trump has made clear that “it's a false choice between whether we are a country of law and order, a country with borders, and a country that demonstrates the compassion and the heart of the American people in this country, for families.”

“By taking this action, the president will make it possible for us to continue to engage in enforcing the law against individuals who violate our law, come into our country illegally, but now we'll be able, in the prosecution in the immediate days forward, to keep families together as that goes forward,” Pence said.

“But we are calling on Congress to change the laws in this regard and in a broad range of areas that will secure our borders and give us strength and confidence that we are once again going to take the steps necessary to end the crisis of illegal immigration in America,” the vice president added.

When asked why the president took so long to sign an executive order addressing family separation, Trump said, “It's been going on for 60 years, 60 years. Nobody has taken care of it. Nobody has had the political courage to take care of it, but we're going to take care of it, but it's been going on -- it's been going on for a long time.”

When asked whether he was backing down on protecting the border, Trump said, “No, no, the border is just as tough, but we do want to keep families together. This is a problem. If you look at some of those horrible scenes from a few years ago -- to me, they were horrible scenes. They were just terrible, and that was during the Obama administration. Other administrations have had the same thing. We're keeping the family together, and so this is it.

“And also, there may be some litigation. We're also wanting to go through Congress. We will be going through Congress. We're working on a much more comprehensive bill,” the president said. He said people can still come into the country through ports of entry if they want.

“That's a whole different story, and that's coming in through a process, and the process is what we want,” he said.

When asked what is the level of frustration that he still doesn’t have money for the border wall, Trump said, “We'll get the wall done.”

Asked whether his daughter Ivanka showed him photos of illegal minors being separated from their parents, the president said, “No, Ivanka feels very strongly. My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated. At the same time, we don't want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem.”

Section 1 of the executive order states:


“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. When an alien enters or attempts to enter the country anywhere else, that alien has committed at least the crime of improper entry and is subject to a fine or imprisonment under section 1325(a) of title 8, United States Code.

This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce this and other criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise. 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.”


Section 3 states that the DHS Secretary “shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.” 

It further states that the DHS 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.”

It also directs the defense secretary to “take all legally available measures to provide to the [DHS] Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.”

“Heads of executive departments and agencies shall, to the extent consistent with law, make available to the Secretary, for the housing and care of alien families pending court proceedings for improper entry, any facilities that are appropriate for such purposes. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities,” the executive order states.

It also directs the attorney general to “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.”

The president made the announcement that he would sign the executive order during a White House meeting with members of Congress Wednesday.

“The Republicans want security and insist on security for our country, and we will have that. At the same time we have compassion. We want to keep families together. It’s very important,’ he said.

“I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that, and the people in this room want to do that, and they’re working on various pieces of legislation to get it done, but I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive but ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” Trump said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) who attended the meeting with the president, said that Trump could do for immigration to what former President Ronald Reagan did for the Soviet Union and former President Richard Nixon did for China.

“I was thinking this morning, when we look at President Nixon's portrait in the White House, we think that he did the unexpected and he went to China, because he could do that. He was in a position to do it, and President Reagan did the unexpected. He went to the Berlin Wall and Moscow,” Alexander said.

“And when we were here a year ago, I think I suggested to you that immigration, which has bedeviled us for 40 years, as you've said -- I believe you can -- you're the president who can help us solve the immigration problem with your leadership. You may be able to do for immigration what Nixon did for China and Reagan did for the Soviet Union, and a lot of us would like to work with you on that,” the senator said.


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