President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order attempts to solve one contentious action – the separation of families – but will bring back another – locking them up together indefinitely.
The order, which Trump signed Wednesday, directs the Department of Homeland Security to keep families intact when they are caught crossing the border. However, it seeks to allow families to be detained together throughout the duration of their court proceedings.
“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” Trump said Wednesday when signing the order. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
Wednesday’s order leaves several unanswered questions: What happens to the more than 2,000 children already separated from their parents since April? Where will the families be housed? What happens after 20 days, the limit a court settlement currently allows for children to be detained?
The House is scheduled to vote on a broader immigration package Thursday that also would allow the indefinite detention of immigrant families. Democrats are expected to vote against the bill but many Republicans, including a group of moderate lawmakers, are expected to vote for the bill. It is not clear if the bill will pass.
Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama, who defended that administration’s use of family detention, said the administration must decide in what order they’re going to implement the terms of the executive order.
“Are they going ask for permission or seek forgiveness?” he said. “If they detain first, they’re going to ask for forgiveness. If they’re going to go to the court first, they’re asking for permission.”
He said there is nothing wrong with the administration seeking to modify the Flores settlement, but expects it will fail.
“Children should not be separated from their parents who are seeking asylum – but neither can the answer be the indefinite jailing of these children with their parents,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a pro-business group created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to work on immigration issues. “We reject this false choice.”
Family detention surged during 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 increase its capacity to house families.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement argued that family residential centers were an effective and humane alternative by keeping families together as they awaited their immigration hearings or are deported. But immigrants complained of poor conditions and isolation at the centers.
“The idea that the way to end family separation is to indefinitely jail kids with their parents in family gulags at the border is as morally reprehensible as separating kids from their parents,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group.