President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to allow children to stay with parents caught crossing the border illegally — moving to stop the family separations that have triggered a national outcry and political crisis for Republicans.
The measure would allow children to stay in detention with parents for an extended period of time. This comes as congressional Republicans scramble to draft legislation to address the same issue, but face challenges mustering the votes.
In signing the measure, Trump said he wants to keep families together while also enforcing border security. He vowed his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigration would continue.
Trump, previewing the measure earlier in the day during a meeting with lawmakers, said the move would “be matched by legislation.” He also said he’s canceling the upcoming congressional picnic, adding: “It didn’t feel exactly right to me.”
The separations stem from the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which aims to prosecute all illegal border crossers. But because of a 1997 order and related decisions, children cannot be detained for longer than 20 days with the adults.
There have been escalating calls from both sides of the political divide for Trump, or Congress, to end the controversial family separation policy.
Rep. Peter King of New York became the latest Republican to join the chorus on Wednesday when he called on Trump to suspend the family separation policy if House immigration legislation does not pass.
Speaking on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom,” King said that while he agrees with the president’s goals in regards to immigration, the current policy of separating migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally is “really terrible for families.”
Republicans in both the House and Senate are struggling to shield the party’s lawmakers from the public outcry over images of children taken from migrant parents and held in cages at the border. But they are running up against Trump’s shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on his signature immigration issue, the border wall.
“The Democrats do not have a strong policy,” King said on Fox News. “But at the same time we are playing into their hands by allowing this to happen.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that the House will vote Thursday on legislation to allow families to remain together in Homeland Security custody throughout their legal proceedings.
“We do not want children taken away from their parents,” Ryan said. “We can enforce our immigration laws without breaking families apart.”
That followed a closed-door meeting in Washington on Tuesday evening, where Trump told House Republicans he is “1,000 percent” behind their rival immigration bills. But it’s unclear whether any bill has enough support to pass.
Under the administration’s current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
More than 2,300 minors were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In the House, GOP leaders scrambled Tuesday to produce a revised version of the broader immigration bill that would keep children in detention longer than now permitted — but with their parents.