Trump signs executive order stopping family separation policy

by Mark Pattison

Catholic News Service


A U.S. Border Patrol spotlight shines on a terrified mother and son from Honduras as they are found in the dark near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and had become lost in the woods. They were then detained by Border Patrol agents and then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This article was updated with NTC staff reporting.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 that halts his administration's family separation policy for families who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The executive order seeks to work around a 1997 consent decree that bars the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention — even if they are with their parents — for more than 20 days. The executive order instructs the attorney general to seek federal court permission to modify the consent decree.

Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson said, in a June 20 statement, “I am grateful for President Trump’s executive order that places a priority on the safety of vulnerable children of migrants detained at the US/Mexico border.  The executive order likewise places a preference for keeping families together as they await a more prompt adjudication of their cases.”

The crisis was spawned when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero tolerance" policy for border crossers. Under the policy, adults would be charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor for crossing the border. Under federal statute, those charged with felonies cannot have their children detained with them.

Bishop Michael Olson strongly opposed removing children from their families, stating, “The use of separation of children, including babies, from their mothers and fathers at the U.S./Mexico border as a tool for implementing the Administration's zero tolerance policy is sinful because it undermines the right to life of the vulnerable, directly traumatizes those who have already been injured, and undermines the role of legitimate authority.”

The bishop continued, “To herald this practice as just and measured lacks compassion, promotes hardness of heart, and further desensitizes us to our mission and responsibilities as Christians to give comfort to the afflicted and to promote respect for human life, the role of legitimate authority, and the common good.”

The government earlier in June said 1,995 minors had been separated from 1,940 adults who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, although some minors had crossed without their parents or adult kin.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth is working with the United States Government to assist children separated from their parents at the border through its International Foster Care Program. According to Bishop Olson, “Catholic Charities Fort Worth remains prepared to assist those children in need of foster care and immediate relief during these difficult times.”

The policy and its upshot stirred some of the most hostile reaction yet of any Trump initiative.

A Mission Police Dept. officer (L), and a U.S. Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Hours before the executive order was signed, Pope Francis said he stood with the U.S. bishops, who had condemned the family separation policy, which has led to children being held in government shelters while their parents are sent to federal prisons.

Mexico's bishops likewise decried the policy. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was heckled June 19 while she dined at a Mexican restaurant in the Washington area.

Every living former first lady and the current first lady, Melania Trump — herself an immigrant from Slovenia — expressed their sorrow, or a stronger emotion, at the sight of children being separated from their parents.

"My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it," Trump said during the June 20 signing ceremony in the Oval Office, with Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence flanking him.

"I don't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," Trump added. "This will solve that problem and at the same time we are keeping a very strong border."

Even so, the executive order is not necessarily a panacea. It allows the Department of Homeland Security to detain families together "under present resource constraints." The "temporary detention policy" also is only in effect "to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations."

Pence criticized those who make a "false choice" between being "a nation of laws" and showing compassion.

"We expect the House to act this week. We expect them to do their job," Nielsen said. The House is considering two immigration bills, although neither dealt in particular with the family separation policy.

Bishop Olson reinforced the responsibility of Congress to enact just immigration reform. In a June 20 statement, he said, “While this executive order takes away the unwarranted separation of parents from their children, the current situation requires that the United States Congress now collaborate in good faith with the executive branch in effecting systematic and comprehensive immigration reform and to provide a plan to address the needs for the 2,000 children already separated from their parents during the past seven weeks.  Our leaders in Congress have a serious responsibility and moral obligation to do so in accord with due and proper respect for legitimate authority.”

"You will have a lot of happy people," Trump said as he signed the executive order. "What we have done today is we are keeping families together."

WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 that halts his administration's family separation policy for families who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.