President Donald Trump caved to political pressure on Wednesday, signing an executive order meant to limit the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders but we are going to keep the families together,” said Trump, speaking from the Oval Office. “I don’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
The executive order says that criminal prosecution of illegal immigrants will continue. However, instead of housing children and parents in separate facilities, the government will begin constructing and apportioning buildings appropriate for families.
According to The New York Times, the order also directs government lawyers to ‘ask for a modification of an exist 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that currently prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention’ for periods longer than 20 days.
Right now, there’s little indication whether courts may accept the request.
President Trump’s about-face came after what was purportedly a hectic morning at the White House. With intense political pressure mounting over family separations, the commander-in-chief issued a statement saying he was working toward a solution.
Despite calling separations a “negotiating tool” less than a week ago, President Trump has since begun insisting that the entire debacle is the fault of Democrats. But even with an executive order now in place, Trump claims he isn’t making concessions to migrants.
It’s the Democrats fault, they won’t give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation. They want open borders, which breeds horrible crime. Republicans want security. But I am working on something – it never ends!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2018
“The border is just as tough. But we do want to keep families together,” he said. “We are keeping the family together.”
Just yesterday, President Trump told members of the media that his hands were tied—that there was no legal way for him, as the nation’s chief executive, to prevent family separations.
“Under current law, we have only two policy options to respond to this massive crisis. We can either release all illegal immigrant families and minors who show up at the border from Central America or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entry,” said Trump. “Those are the only two options, totally open borders or criminal prosecution for law-breaking.”
Less than 24 hours later, Trump said his administration’s priority was to “maintain family unity.” One way to do that, he suggested, would be detaining families together “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”
CNN reports that whole-family detentions are likely to incur legal challenges.
No matter what Trump’s long-term vision for immigration may be, he continued using simple, repetitive rhetoric to condemn his critics.
“The dilemma is that if you’re weak, you’re weak, which some people would like you to be, if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people,” said the president Wednesday.
“And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart,” Trump continued. “That’s a tough dilemma.
“Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.”