President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to pledge to temporarily keep detained immigrant families together when possible, as New York City’s mayor said he was “shocked” to discover more than 200 children who had been separated from their parents had been brought up to a shelter in Harlem.
Trump’s order states that it’s “the policy of this administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”
“It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law,” the president added. The order directs the secretary of Homeland Security “to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations” to “maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.”
“The Secretary shall not, however, detain an alien family together when there is a concern that detention of an alien child with the child’s alien parent would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.”
The order also directs the Defense secretary to “take all legally available measures” to provide the DHS secretary “upon request any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.” DHS “shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.”
The attorney general was directed to file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Flores settlement, a 1997 agreement that limits the immigration detention of children accompanied by parents to 20 days.
“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” Trump said in the Oval Office, a day after a closed-door meeting with House Republicans in which one lawmaker said the president declared “the crying babies doesn’t look good politically.” That meeting included Trump vowing to support GOP immigration bills that include key provisions sought by the White House including border wall funding.
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration is “calling on Congress to change the laws in this regard, and in a broad range of areas that will secure our borders, and give a strength and confidence that we are once again going to take the steps necessary to end the crisis of illegal immigration in America.”
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also stood by Trump as he signed the order, and thanked Trump twice “for your leadership.”
“We look forward, and expect the House to act this week,” Nielsen said. “We ask them to do their job. The laws need to be changed.”
The order doesn’t address family separations that have already occurred under the “zero tolerance” policy. DHS reported that from May 5 through June 9, 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 adults.
Earlier in the day, United, Frontier and American announced that they would not allow their flights to be used to transport separated children, sparking angry pushback from DHS’ spokesman.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said that internal research indicated the company doesn’t believe their flights have been used yet to transport these kids, but “based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it’s in deep conflict with our company’s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents.”
Frontier Airlines tweeted, “Frontier prides itself on being a family airline and we will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families. At this time, we are not aware if Frontier has been used for this purpose.”
DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton tweeted that it was “unfortunate” the airlines “no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the traveling public, combat human trafficking, and to swiftly reunite unaccompanied illegal immigrant children with their families.”
“Despite being provided facts on this issue, these airlines clearly do not understand our immigration laws and the long-standing devastating loopholes that have caused the crisis at our southern border,” he added.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said 239 children had been transported to his city without notification to his government; when he visited the center upon learning about the transfers on Wednesday, he was told by officials that more than 350 children have been housed there since the zero tolerance policy began.
“These children are across a whole range of ages, the youngest to come here they told us was nine months old. So we’re talking about children in some cases who literally can’t even communicate, have no idea what’s happening to them, no ability to be in touch with their families,” de Blasio told reporters. “These children are coming here and the professionals we met with made clear, that this has been a traumatic process for a lot of these kids. The mental health issues alone, they made clear to us, are very real, very painful.”
City health officials told the mayor “a number of kids have come with lice, have come with bedbugs, have come with chickenpox, physical diseases, and contagious situations that just make it worse for everyone else,” he said.
The mayor called on the federal government to “come clean” and be transparent about relocations. “How is the federal government holding back that information from the people of this city and holding back the help that these kids could need?” he said.
Late in the evening, a crowd of pro-immigration demonstrators gathered at LaGuardia as word spread that, after Trump’s signed the order against separations, more children were being flown from Texas into the city — on American Airlines, which said in a statement that ICE told them children on their flight were being reunited with family members in the United States.