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Donald Trump signs order ending migrant family separations at border

The US president’s reversal of the tough policy — made under heavy pressure from fellow-Republicans, Democrats and the international community — is unlikely to have an impact on 52 people from India confined in a federal detention facility at Oregon.

world Updated: Jun 21, 2018 09:28 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,migrant children,policy
US President Donald Trump said he didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.(AP)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order ending a weeks-old policy of separating children from families crossing into the United States illegally, something that had horrified and anguished people across the world.

“We’re going to have strong — very strong — borders, but we are going to keep the families together,” Trump said moments before signing the order at a White House event. Then, in a barely concealed and cynical attempt at self-preservation, he added: “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”

Around 2,300 children, some as young as four, were separated from their families in the weeks since the controversial policy went into effect in May. They were kept in separate facilities — described as cage-like — as their parents underwent legal process pending deportation back to their countries.

Under the new executive order, the United States will allow children to stay with their parents for the duration of the court proceedings, and additional facilities – including military bases – could be used to accommodate them because a court ruling prevents children from being housed in usual detention centers.

But children already separated will not be immediately reunited with their families as the order did not cover existing cases. The new order also held no apparent implications for 52 people from India confined in a federal detention facility at Oregon, Washington state. None of them were accompanied by minors or family members.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a government agency that apprehends illegal immigrants, told Hindustan Times: “Based on information obtained by the US Border Patrol at the time of apprehension, it appears that seven detainees currently housed at Sheridan may have been separated from family members. These individuals are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and China.”

Indian authorities have been in touch with their American counterparts, but are likely to find themselves constrained from going full-tilt on this unless the detainees seek their help. “They are seeking asylum alleging persecution in India, and it would be absurd for the Indian government to help them establish that,” said a former Indian immigration official who did not want to be identified.

The executive order was a rare instance of the president retreating from a decision, and he sought to tamp down any suggestion of having done so. “No, no, the border is just as tough, but we do want to keep families together,” the president insisted, when asked by a reporter if he was backing down.

Trump has come under increased pressure not only from critics but even from those in his coalition of voters, such as evangelicals. A leading figure among them – Reverend Franklin Graham – called family separation “disgraceful”. Even first lady Melania Trump and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, were critical of the decision.

The president had, for most part, struck a defiant note as he tried to use the plight of the children to force congress to pass a broader law enhancing border security, curbing family based immigration. He also sought to shift responsibility by falsely blaming Democrats for the humanitarian crisis unfolding on America’s south-west borders, with images and sounds of crying children seen and heard around the world.

In the end, the images proved too powerful to overcome. According to an inside account of the president’s retreat reported by the Washington Post, the president surprised aides – some of whom had gone out and aggressively defended the policy following their boss’s lead – by asking them on Wednesday morning to prepare a draft executive order to end the controversial policy.

The new report stated that some aides urged the president to stay the course and force congress to legislate a solution, packaged with his broader immigrations reforms agenda. But others, including the president’s daughter, argued for a speedy end to the separations. Kellyanne Conway, another adviser, took the same line.

First Published: Jun 21, 2018 07:09 IST