WASHINGTON (CBS News) – President Trump Wednesday afternoon signed an executive order ending family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Signing the order in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump told reporters in the room that the administration would still continue its “zero tolerance” policy while managing to solve the issue of family separation.
“We are keeping families together and this will solve that problem. At the 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,” Mr. Trump said.
He added, “I didn’t like sight or the feeling of families being separated it’s a problem that’s gone on for many years, too many administrations.” He said that no one has had the “political courage” to take care of the issue which he claims has gone on for over 60 years.
He called the measure “somewhat preemptive” but called on Congress to work towards a more permanent fix on the issue, saying that perhaps a more comprehensive immigration reform bill– one that may tackle the family separation issue, while also addressing security concerns, etc.– may be possible.
CBS News’ Paula Reid reports that order is not expected to reverse the policy on prosecuting all illegal border crossings, but it is expected to allow families to be held together during the process of prosecution and deportation. Justice Department officials have been working on the executive action all day — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
With this, he also called on Democrats for support.
“They really would like to have open borders where they can just flow in,” Mr. Trump said of congressional Democrats.
Family separation has seen a recent uptick due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because any illegal border crossing is prosecuted, parents and children are separated during the legal process.
The president said child smugglers, which he cited as a major reason behind that parent-child separation policy Tuesday, “use these children as passports to get into the country.”
Addressing Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence spoke publicly on the issue for the first time at the meeting, ultimately echoing Mr. Trump’s call for Congress to address family separation by a more permanent means.
“We don’t want families to be separated,” Pence said. “We don’t want children taken away from parents, but right now under the law, as we sit with these law makers, we only have two choices before us: number one, don’t prosecute people who come into our country illegally. Or, prosecute them and then under court cases and the law, they have to be separated from their children.”
Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were present at the White House meeting as well.
Mr. Trump also announced that he will be cancelling the congressional picnic Thursday, saying that it “didn’t feel right” to host the gathering while lawmakers and the administration work towards a solution on immigraiton.
“We want to solve this immigration problem,” Mr. Trump said.
This meeting marks Mr. Trump’s second meeting with Congress this week, following his meeting with House GOP members Tuesday, in the midst of a backlash over the separation of immigrant children from their parents who enter the country illegally through the southern border.
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