After a week of stressing that the White House’s self-imposed policy of separating undocumented minors from their parents is a “law” (it’s not) that only Congress can fix, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced plans to sign an executive action that would keep immigrant families together—albeit in prisons, which is still plenty terrible.
News of Trump’s executive order first broke on Wednesday morning from two outlets—Fox News and the Associated Press—which each reported that the White House had been mulling an end to family separation, and would instead detain undocumented families together. The move comes in the face of growing outrage over the administration’s policy of jailing migrant children.
According to the AP’s report, it was Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen who drafted the order, even before she was certain whether or not the president would sign it (keep in mind that it was Nielsen who, just days earlier, insisted that only Congress could “fix this tomorrow” if they wanted).
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Shortly after the AP and Fox broke the story, Trump told reporters that he planned to sign something “preemptive” on immigration, but did not go into any more detail.
Once the order is signed, it’s likely to face lawsuits alleging that it violates the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement, which calls for children to be released from detention as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, it remains to be see what will happen to the thousands of undocumented minors—including those forcibly torn from their families under the Trump policy—already in federal custody.
Update, 3:16 p.m.: Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, President Trump signed the order stopping his policy of separating undocumented children from their parents.
Update, 3:40 p.m.: The White House has released the text of the executive order. In it, Trump stresses that “It is [...] the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.” He also makes a point to take a shot at Congress, saying, “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.”
According to the order, the Department of Homeland Security will now “maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.” This implies that the administration’s default policy is now indefinite family detention, a decision that will almost certainly lead to legal action.
The order also compels the Department of Defense to “provide to the 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.” This is seemingly in keeping with the administration’s previously reported plans to house undocumented immigrant children—and now, it seems, entire families—in makeshift tent cities housed on military bases.