President Donald Trump ordered an end to the separation of migrant children from their parents on the U.S. border Wednesday, reversing a tough policy under heavy pressure from his fellow Republicans, Democrats and the global community.
"We are keeping families together", Trump said from the Oval Office while flanked by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump administration officials say they haven't yet figured out how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border.
"No one wants to separate families and the president's action will ensure that those who are crossing our border illegally are detained and our laws are enforced", he said. Protesters were galvanized to act after distressing photos and stories hit social media depicting children separated from their parents and sleeping in cages, crammed five in a room at repurposed Walmarts, or in so-called "tent cities" at costs reportedly exceeding what it would take to keep families together.
The order opens by declaring that "it is the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce our immigration laws" while "maintain [ing] family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources".
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Family detention surged during President Barack Obama's term when a surge of Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan immigrants raced into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, fleeing violence and poverty, leading the Department of Homeland Security to significantly increased its capacity to house families.
The Flores settlement, named for a teenage girl who brought the case in the 1980s, requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference. When Nielsen took questions during the White House press briefing on Monday, she was asked about critics who say the Trump Administration is using children as human leverage to demand legislative actions from Congress. Sessions said the administration supports both the conservative and the compromise bill. About 15% of those are arriving as families, and eight percent as unaccompanied children.
In the meantime, the administration faces ongoing legal challenges. It also calls for prioritising immigration cases involving detained families. "The government has been faced with the choice of either splitting the family by detaining the parent and releasing the kid, or just letting the parent go too".
USA protocol prohibits children being detained because while with their parents are charged with a crime their children are not. This is a change from the administration's previous policy, under which adults being prosecuted for illegal entry were held separate from minors with whom they may have entered.
Earlier, as countries marked World Refugee Day Wednesday, world leaders assailed Trump for the separations.
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Asked if he regretted the decision, he replied: "We're completely convinced what we have done is honest and clear". Worldwide highlights: David was part of the 2010 Spain squad that won the World Cup so has been there, done that.
Two people close to Nielsen said she was the driving force behind the turnabout that led to the new order keeping families together.
Trump signed the order Wednesday, saying he "didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated".
In April, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions adopted a "zero tolerance" approach to illegal border crossings at the US-Mexico border.
Trump voter Terry Welch of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, said he blames Congress and its GOP leadership for not reforming immigration laws, though he admits he doesn't like Trump as a person.
All this comes as House Republicans prepare to vote on immigration-reform bills that need Democratic support - with no sign they'll get it.
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It was not immediately clear what Trump, who had previously blamed the family separations on Democrats, would sign. Most of the more than 10,000 children in shelters under HHS care came to the USA alone and are waiting to be placed with family members living in the U.S.