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‘Want to keep families together,’ Trump to end separation policy in order reversing course

Trump announced his decision Wednesday during a meeting at the White House with US lawmakers as global condemnation of the family separation policy intensified. He didn’t immediately elaborate on the order.

world Updated: Jun 21, 2018 00:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Immigration policy,US Immigration policy,Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Republican members of Congress in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on June 20.(Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he plans to sign an executive order that will end the separation of children from families crossing into the United States illegally.

Trump has been under mounting pressure to end the practice that has led to the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents since it went into effect in May. The controversial practice, enforced by his administration as part of a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, has sparked outrage worldwide.

“We’re looking to keep families together,” Trump told reporters at a White House meeting on immigration with officials and Republican lawmakers. “Very important. We’re going to be signing an executive order.”

“We have compassion,” he added, but what he will be doing — signing the order — is “somewhat pre-emptive” which “ultimately will be matched by legislation I am sure”.

Trump also continued to emphasise the need to “maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for and that we don’t want”.

The department of justice is working on a draft of the executive order which Trump said he planned to sign before leaving for a political rally in Minnesota state.

Trump had thus far defended the practice of splitting migrant families while maintaining that he had hated it as much as anyone else. However, he has faced severe backlash.

While leaving a meeting with Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a group of Democratic lawmakers heckled him about the policy. “Quit separating the children, Mr President,” Juan Vargas, a member of the House of Representatives. “Don’t you have kids?”

And Capitol Hill police are reported to be looking for a young woman, possibly a congressional intern, who had yelled an expletive at Trump as he was walking in for the meeting. “Mr President, f*** you,” she had screamed.

Tempers are flaring as outrage grows on both sides of the political divide over children being ripped from the arms of their parents and being confined to cage-like accommodations at federal detention centres, which has drawn comparisons to the World War 2-era internment of Japanese-descent families in the US. Others have called it “Nazi-like” and “pure evil”.

Joaquin Castro, a congressman from Texas, tweeted after a visit to a detention centre that the youngest child he had seen separated from his family was eight months old and had been at the facility for more than a month.

Another person under fire over the separation policy is homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. On Tuesday, about a dozen protesters heckled her as she ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington.

A video posted on Facebook showed the protesters yelling: “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace.” Nielsen paid her bill and left after about 15 minutes.

Business leaders have also condemned the “zero tolerance” policy, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying he is donating money to groups that provide legal advice and translation services for immigrant families at the border.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted that the stories and images about separated families were “gut-wrenching”. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview the policy is “inhumane” and must stop. In a joint statement, the founders of Airbnb said separating kids from their families is “heartless, cruel, immoral and counter to the American values of belonging”.

Conservative-leaning business lobby groups also weighed in. The Business Roundtable, which represents the CEOs of Walmart, General Motors, Boeing, JPMorgan Chase and Mastercard, called for an immediate end to the policy.

Some of that concern has reached the White House as well. Trump told lawmakers at his Tuesday meeting that his daughter Ivanka had asked him if there was a way of stopping it.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are trying to pull together a revised version of a broad immigration bill that will mandate keeping immigrant children in detention indefinitely, but housed with their parents. In the Senate, Republicans are backing a narrower bill that will allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting hearings and possible deportation proceedings.

Trump has said he’s “1,000 percent” behind both bills, but there is little clarity about what he will actually sign.

First Published: Jun 20, 2018 22:43 IST