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Trump's Executive Order on Family Separation, Explained

June 21, 2018


On June 20, President Trump issued an executive order that would purportedly prevent families from being separated at the border. But what does it really do?

The executive order continues its "zero-tolerance" criminal prosecution policy which requires separation of parents from their children. It also places more families together in inhumane detention centers, and tries to circumvent laws that protect children.

What is in the executive order?

  • Continues "zero tolerance" criminal prosecution at the border, perpetuating family separation. This will include criminally prosecuting asylum seekers. Family separation could still occur as parents navigate this process. It also provides no guidance on how to reunite the 2,300 children already separated from their families.

  • Expands family detention. The EO directs authorities to incarcerate children with their parents indefinitely. It requires that all families are detained together during their immigration proceedings, and that they be housed on military bases or in other facilities at an untold cost.

  • Undermines due process to circumvent current child welfare protections. Current law requires that children are not held longer than 21 days in restrictive settings. The EO directs for expedited hearings for families. This may mean they are detained for less time, but it will not mean that they will have adequate due process to have a potential asylum case heard.

The executive order does not end family separation and keeps more asylum seekers, families, and vulnerable individuals unnecessarily detained.

Family Detention is Inhumane and Immoral

  • Family detention risks violating U.S. and international law. The EO is an attempt to circumvent protections for children. The Attorney General has already filed a request to modify the Flores Settlement to make a distinction between accompanied and unaccompanied children, i.e. have no standard for how long children can be kept in detention with a parent.

  • Family detention centers are detrimental to physical, mental, and family health. Being kept in detention compounds the traumas that many families and asylum seekers have prior to arriving in the US, and are further traumatized by conditions within the facilities.

  • Detention centers allow for corporations to profit off of human suffering. The largest family detention centers in the US are run by private prison corporations, and cost the US government around $300 per day per person to keep them detained.

What Should Congress Do?

The administration is pushing for Congress to pass legislation that would end child welfare protections and expand family detention. Congress should reject H.R. 6136 and S. 3093. This legislation purports to end family separation, but actually expands family detention and changes law so that children can be detained indefinitely with their parents. Members of Congress should reject these proposals and others like them.

Members of Congress should cut funding for detention and deportation, and increase accountability and oversight of ICE and CBP. They should also push the administration to immediately end its "zero-tolerance" policy of prosecuting and incarcerating everyone who crosses the border. The administration does not need Congress to pass legislation to do this.

Families, children, and asylum seekers must have access to non-restrictive, community-based alternatives to detention. Some examples include reuniting individuals with family members currently living in the U.S., connecting people with faith-based hospitality communities, or investing in family case management which helps people navigate the legal system. When utilized, all of these alternatives proved to be effective. Over 90% of those participating in them appeared at court hearings and other immigration appointments.

You can learn more about alternatives to detention here.

If you would like more information about how to get involved, check out these resources:

Action Alert Three Ways Congress Can Protect Immigrant Families 

Many members of Congress are weighing in and urging the administration to end separating families, but more must join the chorus of opposition.