Trump signs executive order ending child separation at U.S. border

In a stark reversal on immigration policy, President Donald Trump signed an order on Wednesday that ends the controversial practice of separation immigrant children from families at the border.


President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that calls for officials to stop separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We’re going to keep families together but we still have 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,” Trump said.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

However, Trump said the order doesn’t fully upend his administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

“We are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

It’s a stark reversal by the Trump administration, which has repeatedly and incorrectly insisted its hands were tied and “Congress alone” could change the policy.


A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday at a White House press briefing. “Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.”

She was wrong on all points.

It’s true that there was no codified law ordering the separation of immigrant children from their families, but the separations were an inevitable consequence of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, issued by the Department of Justice, that called for the criminal prosecution of all border-crossing immigrants. Adult immigrants who were prosecuted were sent to federal jail where they couldn’t bring children with them. In the past, families stayed together because they were held in immigrant detention.

Also, as Wednesday’s order proves, the president did have power to direct officials to stop family separations. Even Senate Republicans, who reportedly met with the president prior to his announcement, had voiced this fact. Senator Lindsey Graham, for instance, told CNN that Trump could fix this whole problem “with a phone call.”

The news comes as a surprise to many, even among insiders. According to a comment given to Politico by a former Department of Homeland Security official, not even the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement legal team was informed about the decision.

“It sounds like they blindsided everybody,” the person said. “What changed in the last 12, 24 hours? … Either you believe that, operationally, this is what you need to be doing, or you don’t.”

The most obvious reason for the reversal is the massive public backlash against the policy. As images of crying children being separated from their families go viral, and as a Facebook fundraiser to help immigrant families obtain aid and legal services has raised more than $5 million over several days, it’s not hard to see how this has been a political nightmare for the administration and the GOP, especially with midterm elections approaching.

The order also marks a rare instance of surrender by the administration, as Aaron Blake wrote for the Washington Post.

“Rarely has the White House so tacitly and unmistakably admitted to overplaying its hand,” Blake wrote. “And rarely has it so blatantly copped to its own dishonesty about its actions. Nielsen, in particular, has a lot of explaining to do. But this whole thing is an extremely ugly chapter. And it makes clear that, from Day One, this was a political gambit to force an immigration bill through. It didn't work.”



Stress is contagious–but resilience can be too

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Think of the closest planet to Earth... Wrong! Think again!

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less

10 novels that brilliantly capture the American experience

The distance between the American dream and reality is expressed best through literature.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Literature expands our ability to feel empathy and inspires compassion.
  • These 10 novels tackle some facet of the American experience.
  • The list includes a fictional retelling of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, and hiding out in inner-city Newark.
Keep reading Show less