Frontera Fund News Trump Watch

What’s Wrong with Trump’s Executive Order on Family Separation?


In the last few weeks, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their immigrant or asylum-seeking parents – often ripped out of their arms or snatched away when officers told their parents they were being given a bath. These children and babies have been sent around the country to detention centers, shelters, and foster families. There appears to be no method in place to keep track of them or reunite them with their families.

On June 20, Trump signed an executive order stopping the evil practice of family separation. “We are keeping families together, and this will solve that problem,” Trump announced.

It will not solve the problem. Not by a long shot.

Most disturbingly, the executive order offers no plan to reunite already separated families, and the administration heartlessly confirmed it will not make any special effort to do so. Given that, last year, the Department of Health and Human Services lost 1,500 unaccompanied childrenand that some of the parents recently separated from their children have already been deported, and that some of these babies are too young to speak, it seems inevitable that some of these families will never see each other again.

This is a staggering tragedy almost too cruel to imagine.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against family separation in which “we’ve asked for the thousands of kids who’ve already been separated to be reunited immediately with their parents,” announced Lee Gelernt of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “These little kids are suffering immeasurably, and they need to be reunited. The executive order callously disregards that part of the problem completely.”

The administration has indicated it will now detain all families, even if they are asylum seekers or pose no flight risk or danger.

Almost equally disturbingly, the executive order keeps the administration’s zero-tolerance policy in place. This means they will continue to prosecute 100 percent of people who cross the border illegally, even if they are seeking asylum. (Remember that many families who legitimately sought asylum at ports of entry were cruelly and illegally turned away by Border Patrol, and many parents separated from their children were pursuing the legal process of seeking asylum.)  The administration has indicated it will now detain all  families, even if they are asylum seekers or pose no flight risk or danger.

The executive order is also deeply troubling in that it seems to suggest that, even though they’re now going to keep the children and parents together, they’re just going to lock up all the families – sort of create family prisons and even build more,” Gelernt said. “That is really problematic, and we will be suing over that because we don’t believe that a family should be locked up if they’re not a flight risk or a danger.”

The Trump administration would have no problem detaining everyone who crosses the border, the ACLU says. Please remember that private prison corporations, which are rolling in money thanks to the proliferation of detention centers and jails, are major donors to the Trump administration and politicians across the country. It is no accident that the U.S. is the incarceration nation.

But the administration and this executive order will soon face a problem, explained immigration attorney Ava Benach on Facebook: “The solution that they have come up – to detain parents and children together – runs into a problem in exactly twenty days, when the law says that the children must be released.”

The law, determined by the 1997 Flores v. Reno court decision, limits the time the federal government can hold families in custody to 20 days. It demands that the government send children to live with a relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay.” While immigrant children remain in detention, the ruling requires them to be kept in the “least restrictive conditions” possible.

Therefore, the Trump administration has the Flores settlement “directly in its crosshairs,” Benach said.

Republicans in Congress proposed legislation to overrule the Flores settlement, allowing them to keep parents and children together in immigration detention while they are put through criminal prosecution and deportation proceedings. Those proceedings could take years. So the Trump administration appears to be pushing Congress or the courts to allow it to detain immigrants and asylum seekers indefinitely.