John Roberts and Andrew O'Reilly, Fox News, June 20, 2018
President Trump is planning to sign an executive order to allow children to stay with parents caught crossing the border illegally — a step that could avoid the family separations that have triggered a national outcry and political crisis for Republicans.
The action under consideration would allow children to stay in detention with parents for an extended period of time, Fox News has learned. This comes as congressional Republicans scramble to draft legislation to address the same issue, but face challenges mustering the votes.
Trump previewed the new measure, while holding out hope for legislation, during remarks to reporters during a meeting Wednesday with lawmakers.
“I’ll be signing something in a little while [to keep families together],” he said, calling the move “somewhat preemptive” and stressing it would “be matched by legislation.” He also said he’s canceling the upcoming congressional picnic, adding: “It didn’t feel exactly right to me.”
The separations stem from the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which aims to prosecute all illegal border crossers. But because of a 1997 order and related decisions, children cannot be detained for longer than 20 days with the adults.
Sources told Fox News that such an executive action by Trump could be seen to run afoul of the 1997 order and would likely draw a lawsuit. But the White House wants to try to take steps to uphold the enforcement of the law, while at the same time lessening the trauma of children being separated from their parents.
In another possible approach, Fox News is told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will recommend to Trump that he throw his support behind developing House legislation or, if that doesn’t pass, a standalone bill to close the “loopholes” regarding family detention.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that the House will vote Thursday on legislation to allow families to remain together in Homeland Security custody throughout their legal proceedings.
Under the administration’s current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.