President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to allow children to remain with their parents caught illegally crossing the U.S. border, a move to stop the separation of families due to relentless pressure to change the policy after a national outcry caused by images of children. Before the order was made, the administration had been defending the separation of families, while blaming the families themselves for putting themselves in such a predicament.
However, the order does not end the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes all immigrant adults. When the policy was put into place last month, adults were moved to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sent many children to facilities from the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the policy had resulted in an increase in family separations in recent weeks—with over 2,300 minors separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9.
The following is an overview of what the recent executive order does:
- Keeps families together, while continuing to prosecute adults who illegally cross the border – The executive order states it is the policy of the administration “to maintain family unity.” Although families will be housed together, there are still circumstances that could result in separation.
- Adults will not be turned over to the Justice Department when facing criminal charges – The order keeps families together with the DHS. However, there is an exception for when a child is at risk or there is concern about the child’s well-being.
- No plan to reunite children currently separated from their families – The order does not address any families that have already been separated.
- Streamlines immigration court proceedings – The order makes an effort to have families’ cases in immigration court heard faster, prioritizing cases involving detained families. Currently, if a family has a potentially valid claim of asylum, they could have an immigration court date months or years in the future. During this time, they are permitted to live and work in the US.
- Families to be detained at military facilities – The order compels federal agencies, specifically the Defense Department, to start to prepare facilities to house families that will now be detained by the federal government.
According to the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, minors are only allowed to be detained for 20 days. Trump ordered U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file a request in court to change the settlement in Flores v Reno, which could result in a lengthy and intense litigation proceeding to obtain the power to detain families in government custody indefinitely.