WASHINGTON – After days of outcry, the Trump administration appears to be backing off of a contentious new policy that separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents who crossed the border illegally.
The “zero tolerance” policy, announced in April by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has mandated the separation of thousands of children from their parents who face criminal prosecution for illegal border crossings.
But President Donald Trump said Wednesday morning that he would sign “something” to keep families together, shortly after The Associated Press reported that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was drafting an executive action that would allow families to stay together while they were detained for immigration proceedings.
“I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that,” the president told White House reporters, adding that his action would be “somewhat pre-emptive and ultimately matched by legislation.”
Facing widespread, harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle and all corners of the country, Trump at first defended the policy by saying he was simply following the law, and insisted, incorrectly, that only Congress could stop the separations.
Under past administrations, most first-time illegal border crossers had not been criminally prosecuted for illegally entering the country.
Now, when parents are charged with illegal border entry, they’re separated from their children, who cannot be sent to jails. The policy of keeping kids — some reportedly as young as 8 months old — away from their parents and under the care of strangers has drawn strong rebukes from lawmakers, religious leaders and immigration advocates across the country.
Even in Texas, where prominent Republicans tend to hew to the Trump line, many statewide Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and both of the state’s U.S. senators, had been calling for ending the separations. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have both been pursuing legislation that would do just that. And congressional Republican leaders said this week they would vote on a broad immigration bill, including the separations, on Thursday.