Washington, June 21: President Donald Trump backed down on Wednesday on an immigration policy that sparked outrage at home and abroad, signing an executive order to end the separation of children from their parents when immigrant families are caught crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.
The order directs the US Justice Department to seek a modification of a court order to permit families that enter the US illegally to be detained together until their criminal proceedings are concluded, a text of the order shows.
It also moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings. The order does not end a “zero tolerance” policy that calls for criminal prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally.
“It’s about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,”? Trump said as he signed the order in a hastily arranged Oval Office gathering.
Videos of youngsters in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked anger in the US from groups ranging from clergy to influential business leaders, as well as condemnation from abroad, including Pope Francis.
Trump, a frequent viewer of cable television newscasts, had recognised the family separation issue was a growing political problem, White House sources said. First Lady Melania Trump, in private conversations with the President, urged him to do something, a White House official said.
“The First Lady has been making her opinion known to the President for some time now, which was that he needed to do all he could to help families stay together,” an official said.
Wednesday’s move marked a rare instance since Trump took office in January 2017 in which he has changed course on a controversial policy, rather than digging in.
Trump has made a tough stance on immigration central to his presidency.
In recent days, the Republican President had insisted his hands were tied by law on the issue of family separations and had sought to blame Democrats, although it was his administration that implemented the policy of strict adherence to immigration law.
The Republican-controlled US Congress is also considering legislation to address the issue.
The House of Representatives planned to vote on Thursday on 2 bills designed to halt the practice of separating families and to address other immigration issues.