By Bob Smietana
Wednesday afternoon, President Trump signed an executive order ending the policy of separating children from their parents at the border.
The order does not end the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally.
However, families will now be held in custody together if they cross the border illegally.
The executive order restates the Trump administration’s position that anyone who crosses illegally will be charged with a crime.
“It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources,” according to the order.
Previous administrations have treated border crossing as a civil rather than criminal offense.
The order does not address what will happen to families who have already been separated but instructs the attorney general to prioritize cases of detained families.
The order directs the Defense Department to provide or construct facilities to house families.
Many of the families who have been detained in recent weeks have come to the United States seeking asylum. Current law allows people to apply for asylum.
Alan Cross, a Baptist pastor who has been working on immigration issues, had a mixed reaction to the executive order. Earlier in the day, he tweeted out thanks that the president planned to sign an executive order.
Once the order was signed, Cross tweeted out his concerns—namely that families crossing the border will be treated as criminals.
Prosecute all as criminals, detain them all, keep their kids with them in detention, build prison camps on the Southern border and also ship families around the country to be detained and imprisoned until their case is heard and they are deported. That is what we will see. https://t.co/QNGoyxeFPN
— Alan Cross (@AlanLCross) June 20, 2018
One complication with the new executive order: It may conflict with a court settlement that limits how long the government can hold immigrant children in custody.
The Flores v. Reno settlement — also known as the “Flores settlement” — dealt with an immigration case from the 1980s.
In that case, a teenager named Jenny Lisette Flores from El Salvador was arrested after crossing the border from Mexico. She was jailed with adults and subjected to regular strip-searches.
Federal officials argued she could be released only to her parents. A federal lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before being settled in 1997.
“The Flores settlement requires the federal government to do two things: to place children with a close relative or family friend ‘without unnecessary delay,’ rather than keeping them in custody; and to keep immigrant children who are in custody in the ‘least restrictive conditions’ possible,” according to Vox.com.
Today’s executive order asks the Justice Department to ask the courts to modify the settlement:
The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions, CV 85-4544 (“Flores settlement”), in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.
- Keep Immigrant Families Together, Say Evangelicals
- How Can You Help Families Separated at the Border?
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.