Following widespread protests, including opinions of current and former First ladies, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to end separation of immigrant families on the US-Mexico border. The images of children in cages sparked had sparked a global outrage.
In recent weeks, more than 2,500 such children were separated from their parents, who were deported by the US authorities on charges of illegal stay in the US territory.
“We’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem. At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero-tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House as he signed the executive order.
The executive order, signed by Trump, asks the Department of Homeland Security to keep families together while people await trial for illegal border crossing. But cases where there is a concern that parents “would pose a risk to the child’s welfare” have been exempted from the executive order.
Trump said he didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. “It’s a problem that’s gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations. We are working very hard on immigration. It’s been left out in the cold. People haven’t dealt with it, and we are dealing with it,” he said.
Trump’s opponents, however, were not satisfied with the executive order, asserting that this was not enough.
“The President’s Executive Order seeks to replace one form of child abuse with another. Instead of protecting traumatised children, the President has directed his Attorney General to pave the way for the long-term incarceration of families in prison-like conditions,” said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“It is particularly galling that President Trump seeks to continue violating children’s human rights to justify and gin up support for the anti-family language included in Speaker Ryan’s anti-immigrant bill,” she said.
Trump’s policy of separating immigrant parents and their children on the US border had also evoked sharp criticism from his own wife, as well as a former first lady, who described the move to warehouse children in detention centres as “cruel” and “immoral.”
In a rare statement on a policy issue, Melania Trump, through her spokeswoman said she “hates to see children separated from their families”.
“She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart,” the communications director of the first lady Stephanie Grisham, said.
Meanwhile, Laura Bush, wife of the former Republican President George W Bush had said, “This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.
“Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso,” according to her.
“These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history,” she wrote.
(With inputs from Agencies)