Immigration advocacy groups came out against an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on 20 June 2018, arguing that it shifted his administration’s policy from separating undocumented immigrant families at the U.S. border to detaining them together indefinitely.
The order will not suspend his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy regarding undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. It states that Attorney General Jeff Session’s office would move to modify a 1997 court settlement “in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”
The Flores settlement, as it is known, required that Department of Homeland Security officials could not detain children for more than 20 days.
Around 2,000 children were reportedly separated from their parents prior to Trump issuing his executive order. The directive was released the same day that a report from the Texas Tribune and the Center for Investigative Reporting stated that as part of the “zero tolerance” policy, psychiatric drugs were forcibly injected into children held at detention facilities.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the president had been “brought to his knees” in part because of the outcry against his administration following reports that children were being separated from their families and placed inside cages.
“An eleventh-hour executive order doesn’t fix the calamitous harm done to thousands of children and their parents. This executive order would replace one crisis for another,” Romero said:
Children don’t belong in jail at all, even with their parents, under any set of circumstances. If the president thinks placing families in jail indefinitely is what people have been asking for, he is grossly mistaken.
Trump had previously claimed, falsely, that Democratic Party lawmakers had pushed a law through requiring family separation. Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, was also roundly criticized for insisting that the administration did not have a policy at all:
Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the criticism against the administration “a problem of the president’s own making” in a statement:
His administration flagrantly unleashed a cruel policy to tear away immigrant babies and children from their families, and then blamed others. This is the president who once boasted that he alone can solve America’s problems, then claimed his hands were tied as young children were placed behind chain-link fences. Make no mistake: The president crammed our nation’s highest ideals and values into a shredder. He does not get credit for taping them back together.
At least three Republican lawmakers — Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — have introduced legislation requiring undocumented families to be detained together. But another coalition of groups, collectively known as the Detention Watch Network, condemned those bills and called them “poisonous” in its own statement.
“It is clear that these efforts by the GOP are all apart of the same design, to criminalize communities of color and expand the already massive, unaccountable and deadly immigrant detention system,” said the coalition’s organizing director, Danny Cendejas.
The outcry concerning the family-separation policy spawned a series of demonstrations around the United States, with more than 100 slated to take place on 30 June 2018.