President Trump signed an executive order today, claiming it will end the family separation policy his administration implemented in April. But legal analysts have voiced concern over language in the order that could allow for the indefinite detention of children with their parents, a practice that until now has been forbidden due to a 20 day legal limit on children’s stays in immigration facilities.
It is unclear what will happen to the over 2,000 children who have already been separated from their parents, or if this order will face a legal challenge.
Just this morning, Democratic Representatives gave speeches on the House floor calling on Trump to end his inhumane policy. Each representative who attended brought two children with them, highlighting the young ages of the children detained in tent cities and facilities at the border.
A press conference followed on the Capitol lawn with speeches by John Lewis and Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “I never thought I would see the day when children are literally used as pawns for a pointless, wasteful, racist wall. It’s a disgrace and it must end today,” demanded Smeal. “We are spending our summer registering voters so that in November we can vote out the politicians who did nothing to save vulnerable, immigrant children from this humanitarian crisis.”
The family separation policy resulted from the announcement of a “zero-tolerance” border policy, which aimed to prosecute as many border-crossers as possible – even those who turned themselves over to Board Patrol seeking asylum. Under this policy, parents are immediately sent into criminal custody, while children are classified as “unaccompanied alien children.” This classification used to only apply to minors crossing the border without an adult relative. It allowed Border Patrol to forcefully separate the children from their parents.
Speaker Paul Ryan claimed the border policy is due to a 1997 court decision called the Flores Settlement. However, the settlement does not require families be separated at the border, and no other administration has interpreted the settlement as such.
Feminist Majority protested the DOJ’s policy on Wednesday, June 13 and walked alongside many Members of Congress, including civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis. Dozens of activists including several Representatives risked arrest by blocking the door to the Department of Customs and Border Patrol.
“Let’s be clear: this is a new policy created by this Administration to use children as leverage to deter people who are desperately seeking safety,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal in a statement. “Instead of helping them find refuge, we are ripping their children from them in hopes of deterring other desperate people.”
Until today, Trump insisted that Congress alone could overturn his family separation policy, but over the weeks long crisis, no bill to resolve the matter was brought up for a vote in the House or Senate.
New of the policy began to intensify after Senator Jeff Merkley visited a Texas detention center in early June. Merkley was denied entry and the facility administrators called the police, despite his attempts to reach out to the facility beforehand to schedule a visit.
During a visit he was later permitted to take, his staff reported disturbing images of children kept in cages. The particular facility was a re-purposed Walmart owned by private nonprofit Southwest Key Programs. The windows were blacked out, and it housed up to 1000 children. Southwest Key Programs runs 27 immigrant children’s shelters.