Donald Trump has signed an executive order to end the separation of immigrant families at the US southern border in a major climbdown by the US President that followed outrage at home and abroad.
The edict requires that immigrant families be detained together when they are caught entering the country illegally, although it was not immediately clear for how long. It may mean immigrant children remain in custody indefinitely.
It also moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings. The order does not, however, end a “zero tolerance” policy that calls for criminal prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally.
There’s also no evidence that Trump has the legal authority to make his order reality, and thousands of children still remain apart from their parents. The New York Times last night reported hundreds of separated children have quietly been sent to New York.
“It’s about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” Trump said as he signed the order in a hastily-arranged Oval Office gathering.
Videos of youngsters in cages and an audiotape of wailing children have sparked anger at home from groups ranging from clergy to influential business leaders, as well as condemnation from abroad.
The images were causing a major political problem for Trump, with First Lady Melania Trump reportedly urging him to do something in private conversations with the president.
In the Oval Office, Trump said he had also heard from his daughter and aide, Ivanka Trump, about the policy.
“Ivanka feels very strongly. My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it,” Trump said.
Underling the international fury, Theresa May condemned Trump for his “deeply disturbing” policy - but said she would not be withdrawing her invitation for his to visit the UK in July.
“The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing. This is wrong. This is not something we agree with. This is not the UK’s approach,” she told MPs during prime minister’s questions.
Before the order was signed, three major US airlines - American Airlines, United and Frontier - had asked the federal government to stop using their flights to transport migrant children who have been separated from their families.
Governments from Central America and Mexico welcomed Trump’s decision on Wednesday, but said they would remain vigilant to ensure the rights of their citizens were respected.
According to the US Government, over 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday night that “babies and other young children” are being sent to “tender age” shelters in Texas.
The report said visitors to the centers described “playrooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis.”
And children at the shelters were found to be “hysterical, crying and acting out”.
On Monday, the ProPublica website published an audio clip of children many of crying so hard that it sounded as if they could “barely breathe”.
Trump had tried to blame Democrats for the policy of separating children from parents and force them into concessions, including funding for a wall he wants to build along the border with Mexico.
Just in the past few days he had insisted his hands were tied by law on the issue of family separations even though his administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy.
But the volume of condemnation on breaking up families, from inside and outside the White House, finally overwhelmed Trump.