What's happening at the US border
U.S. Customs and Border Protection now says that any children "still in Border Patrol custody" will be reunited with their families after the adults are prosecuted.
This statement, issued this morning by a CBP spokesperson, follows a Health and Human Services statement yesterday saying the executive order doesn’t affect children in its custody, which itself walked back last night by HHS to say it’s still early and that they were awaiting guidance.
One thing to note: It is extremely unlikely that any of the more than 2,300 children already separated before June 9 will be impacted by this new policy, as those parents are likely to already be in ICE custody post-prosecution, and kids should only be in CBP custody for up to 72 hours.
This, then, would seem to impact new arrivals.
It’s also important to note that this statement makes clear that going forward, families will not be separated -- except when it’s deemed necessary. That's the old status quo before "zero tolerance."
Here's the full statement:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has taken immediate steps to implement the President’s Executive Order Affording Congress the Opportunity to Address Family Separation. Family unity will be maintained for families apprehended crossing the border illegally, and they will be transferred together to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Border Patrol will continue to refer for prosecution adults who cross the border illegally. For those children still in Border Patrol custody, we are reuniting them with parents or legal guardians returned to Border Patrol custody following prosecution. As specified in the order, families will not be detained together when doing so would pose a risk to the child’s welfare. Additionally, as was the case prior to implementation of the zero tolerance policy on May 5, family units may be separated due to humanitarian, health and safety, or criminal history in addition to illegally crossing the border.
The Department of Health and Human Services walked back comments tonight that a spokesperson made earlier about the reunification of undocumented families who have been separated at the southern border.
Earlier today, HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe told CNN that President Trump's executive order had not changed anything in terms of family reunification of undocumented families.
“For the minors currently in the unaccompanied alien children program, the sponsorship process will proceed as usual,” Wolfe said.
Now, HHS says the spokesperson misspoke.
"It is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter," spokesperson Brian Marriott said in a statement.
"Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of UACs (unaccompanied alien children), and the administration is working towards that for those UACs currently in HHS custody," he added.
President Trump's executive order has not changed anything in terms of reunification of undocumented families who have been separated at the southern border, a Health and Human Services official confirmed Wednesday.
The order does not speak to any families that have already been separated — and existing policies place the onus on parents to find their children in HHS custody and seek to reunite with them.
The bottom line: There are no new special procedures for those children.
“For the minors currently in the unaccompanied alien children program, the sponsorship process will proceed as usual,” HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe told CNN.
The White House just wrapped up a call briefing the media on the executive order President Trump just signed — repeatedly declining to answer questions about how the order will be implemented, what it means for currently separated families and why the administration changed its mind on being able to do anything to keep families together.
In a call with reporters, Gene Hamilton, who is counselor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also repeatedly said that the only long-term option supported by the administration is Congressional action, saying the President supports both bills being considered by the House on Thursday.
While Hamilton said the order would have “immediate effect,” he demurred on what, exactly, it would be, citing that the order acknowledges that implementation will be subject to what resources are available.
“There will be an implementation phase that follows. Certainly (Department of Homeland Security and (Health and Human Services) will be working and collaborating closely on the best way to implement this executive order,” Hamilton said.
“I can’t say what they’re going to do. … The President’s executive order makes clear what the policy is going forward,” he added.
He similarly ducked a question about whether families would still be separated, whether they will be released from custody as they were before, or what will happen to the families currently separated. He also acknowledged that as long as the court settlement the administration is seeking to overturn stands, they cannot detain families longer than 20 days.
President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that he said would keep undocumented immigrant families together when they are detained at the southern border.
Here is what the executive order does (or you can read the order here):
- Keeps families together, for the most part. While the Justice Department will continue to prosecute adults who cross the border illegally in federal court, the order says, Trump asks that families be housed together "where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources." It was not immediately clear whether the caveats would still result in a substantial number of separations.
- Keeps families with DHS. In a major change, adults will not be turned over to the Justice Department when they face criminal charges, and will instead stay with their children in detention with the Department of Homeland Security. But there's a catch, saying the families will be detained to the "extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations" -- again something that remains to be worked out.
- Jumps families to the front of the line in court. In order to expedite the process for deporting the family or giving them legal status, Trump orders the Justice Department to "prioritize" cases "involving detained families" -- presumably jumping them in line at immigration court and cutting down substantially the length of time before a judge hears their case.
- Seeks indefinite detention. Trump ordered Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file a request in court to change the settlement in Flores v. Reno -- setting up a likely lengthy and intense litigation process that would seek the power to detain families in government custody indefinitely. The settlement, however, is overseen by a judge and an appellate court that already imposed these conditions, making the court challenge an uphill climb for the Trump administration.
- Sets up family detention at military facilities. The order also instructs federal agencies -- especially the Defense Department -- to begin to prepare facilities that could house the potentially thousands of families that will now be detained by the government.
- Blames Congress. The order also blames Congress -- specifically its failure to pass immigration legislation -- for the separation of families in the first place, saying the administration had no choice, even as the administration reversed course.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, speaking to reporters, stands by her comments from the White House briefing this week where she said “only Congress” can fix the situation at the border in light of Trump signing the executive order.
“Only Congress can act to secure the border, yes I do,” she said when I asked if she stood by her comments. “We need to change the law so I have the authority to secure the border for the American people.”
“We have court cases that prohibit us from keeping families together," she added.
Nielsen didn’t explain how to reconcile that statement with the fact that Trump just signed an EO.
In a private meeting with House Republicans, Nielsen did not acknowledge any mistakes or mishandling of situation at border. She laid out how the immigration bills House Republicans are pushing are consistent with Trump’s policies.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy issued a scathing statement that warns Americans to "not be fooled" by President Trump's executive order, which would keep families together at the border.
"After weeks of false and conflicting justifications for requiring that children be torn from their parents at the border, the President backed down," he said.
"But we must not be fooled. We need to ensure that the 2,500 children already separated are promptly reunited with their families."
Read his full statement:
Today the American people, through their forceful and justified outrage, proved that people, joining together, can drive positive change even during the Trump administration. After weeks of false and conflicting justifications for requiring that children be torn from their parents at the border, the President backed down. But we must not be fooled. We need to ensure that the 2,500 children already separated are promptly reunited with their families. We must be clear that mass incarceration of families is not the answer — alternatives exist that have proven to be effective, less costly, and more humane. And the Attorney General needs to restore discretion to our federal prosecutors along the border. With limited resources, it makes absolutely no sense to delay civil immigration proceedings in order to criminally prosecute migrants with no criminal records, who pose no threat, and who are only seeking refuge from unimaginable violence and terror in their home countries. The President may cynically assert that protecting our borders requires abhorrent treatment of immigrant children and their parents. But that is as wrong as it is un-American. The President owns this.