Donald Trump signs order to halt policy of separating families

President vows to continue ‘zero-tolerance policy’ on immigration

US president Donald Trump has bowed to political pressure and signed an executive order halting the policy of separating children from parents at the US border, as international criticism of his administration's immigration policy mounted on Wednesday.

Despite repeatedly insisting for days that the US Congress was solely responsible for resolving the issue, the president signed an executive order in the White House on Wednesday. The order means that children will not be separated from parents who cross the border, but they will be detained alongside them while their immigration status is assessed.

There could be legal challenges to the order, however, which seeks permission to modify an existing 2007 decree known as the Flores agreement, which prohibits children from being kept in immigration detention.

Speaking at a signing ceremony in the White House, Mr Trump said his wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka, had felt strongly about ending the practice. While he said he “did not like the sight of families being separated”, he warned he would maintain a “zero tolerance policy” on immigration.


Earlier Mr Trump said that while he wanted to keep families together, “we have to be very strong on the border”.

‘Overtaking the country’

“Otherwise, you’ll have millions of people coming up – not thousands, like we have now; you’ll have millions of people flowing up and just overtaking the country – we’re not letting that happen.”

The president’s abrupt change in policy comes after mounting domestic and international outcry about the practice that saw border agents separate children from their parents at the US-Mexico border in Texas while the adults were detained elsewhere.

Mr Trump urged congress to come up with a more long-term solution to immigration policy following a series of meetings with Republican law-makers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Border wall

The House of Representatives was due to bring two bills to the floor on Thursday, with the senate working on a separate plan. With the proposals dealing with the contentious issue of funding for the border wall as well as the status of "dreamers" – young people who arrived illegally in the United States as children – it was unlikely to get full support from lawmakers.

The U-turn by the president came as international criticism of his border policy continued, with Pope Francis adding his voice to the chorus of condemnation.

Some of the country’s main airlines issued statements on Wednesday stating their aircraft would not be used to transport children who had been separated from their families.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent