U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to end the separation of undocumented migrant parents and children seeking to enter the United States at the Mexico border.
The Trump administration had separated 2,300 families in the past six weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, holding children as young as four years old in cages within cold warehouses in border states. The warehouses have become known as #Trumpcamps and have been likened to the U.S. Japanese internment camps during WWII.
Social media outlets lit up this week with domestic and international backlash protesting Trump's family separation policy. A June 18 Quinnipiac poll found that U.S. residents opposed the policy 66-27.
Pope Francis and outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called the administration's actions "unconscionable" and called for an immediate end to the policy. Even the president's wife, Melania, urged her husband to cease and desist.
Earlier this week, Trump and his Director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen tried to blame the practice on Democrats and some unnamed law they claimed the party had passed. The head of state tweeted on Wednesday, "Our immigration laws are the weakest and worst anywhere in the world, and the Dems will do anything not to change them & to obstruct-want open borders which means crime!"
While signing the decree he delivered a message: "It's about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border," he said, signing the order that many in his closest circle were unaware was happening until it was over.
"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," said the president, flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence. "I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated."
Many are convinced Trump's decree is not a legal or human longterm solution to the influx of asylum seekers at the border with Mexico since it conflicts with a 2015 court ruling that requires the government to release child migrants from detention after 20 days.
“These are protections for kids. That’s the doctrine here,” Muzaffar Chishti, director of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute’s office at the NYU School of Law tells the Huffington Post.
After the 20 days were up previous administrations typically released the child and mother to avoid splitting them up, but some fear his administration will simply try to hold parents and kids together, but indefinitely. The Trump order, an unusual reversal by him, moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings but it does not end a 10-week-old “zero tolerance” policy that calls for prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally under the country’s criminal entry statute.
The vast majority of separated families were Central Americans trying to gain political asylum, to which they are entitled under international law.
The U.S. border patrol took up the practice of "preventing refugees from coming to ports of entry, turning them away... and making them wait for indeterminate periods of time in Mexico," Jeremy Slack, assistant professor of geography in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas in El Paso, told teleSUR.
Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told the media they couldn't receive any more asylum seekers "until space becomes available."
Such families were forced to enter 'illegally' at non-port entries, where they were then picked up by border patrol agents and adults put on the path to be tried for misdemeanors or felonies. This obliged authorities to place children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Prior administrations and even Trump had previously treated these cases administratively, which allowed families to stay together.
The order requires that immigrant families be detained together after entering the country, which is in itself a controversial policy, but one which predates this scandal. However, several Republican members of the House of Representatives – briefed by Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen on Wednesday about the president's decree – said they "do not know if it would prevent family separations during detentions longer than 20 days," Reuters reports.
The Families Belong Together organization is planning a national-level U.S. protest against the president's immigration policy on June 30.