WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSNewYork) – President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to stop the separation of migrant parents and children at the southern border.
The order allows families to be held in detention together but does not reverse the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
“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,” the president announced Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a problem that’s gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations. And we’re working very hard on immigration. It’s been just left out in the cold. People haven’t dealt with it, and we are dealing with it.”
Since early May, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as part of the administration’s new immigration strategy, which prompted widespread outcry.
“The dilemma is: If you’re weak, which some people would like you to be, if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma,” Trump said. “Perhaps, I’d rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.”
The president also called on Congress to address the situation. The House is slated to vote on a pair of rival immigration bills Thursday, but neither appears to have enough support to pass, Gainer reported.
“We can enforce our immigration laws without breaking families apart,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. “This is very good compromised legislation that not only solves the child separation issue at the border, it also solves the border, it solves DACA, it solves a lot of our broken immigration parts.”
“I’m glad he’s taking some action, but the real action ought to be – he ought to be engaged with us in meaningful immigration reform so we don’t have this crisis in the first place,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said.
At a campaign-style event in Minnesota Wednesday evening, Trump touted the executive order he signed hours earlier.
“We’re going to have a lot of happy people,” said Trump.
First Lady Melania Trump and the president’s daughter, Ivanka, shared the sentiment. Both women reportedly pushed the president to take action.
“My wife feels very strongly about it, I feel very strongly about it, I think anyone with a heart would feel very strongly about it,” said the president.
Under a long-standing law, children weren’t allowed to stay with adults facing criminal charges at the border. Trump’s executive order now allows families of illegal immigrants to be together for 20 days during prosecution. After that, they must either be deported or separated.
How to change the immigration laws within Congress, however, remained contentious.
“I believe expedite their hearings so they can get through, whether it’s asylum or some other measure, or be returned faster and not be languishing in these conditions,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla) said.
“This whole crisis was created by the president,” Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) said. “He ought to be engaged with us in meaningful immigration reform so we don’t have this crisis in the first place.”
As for the children already separated from their parents, there will be no immediate reunion. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio toured a facility in East Harlem that houses children separated from their parents.
“There are now 239 children right here as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy,” he said.
The mayor said the youngest child at the Cayuga Center is nine months old.
“So we’re talking about children in some cases who literately can’t even communicate, have no idea what’s happening to them, no ability to be in touch with their families,” he said.
He also said many children come to the centers with health issues.
“A number of kids have come with lice, have come with bedbugs, come with chicken pox, physical diseases and contagious situations that just make it worse for everyone else,” he said.
“Professionals we met with made clear that this has been a traumatic process for a lot of these kids,” he added. ‘The mental health issues alone, they made clear to us, are very real, very painful.”
De Blasio said he was unaware the children were being housed in the city, because it was not disclosed by the federal government.
He was scheduled to visit the border town of Tornillo, Texas where he will meet other mayors from across the country on Thursday to attempt to gain access to the detention center at an entry-point there.