After Trump’s Executive Order, What Happens Next With Children At the Border?

Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen have often said that “the law” requires that undocumented children be separated from their parents a the U.S.-Mexico border, but there is no law that requires that.

They have also said other false things like:

  • They said there was no Trump administration policy of separating families,
  • They said that that several laws and court rulings were forcing these separations,
  • They said that that several laws and court rulings were forcing these separations,
  • They said that that Democrats were to blame,
  • They said that that only Congress could stop family separations,
  • They said that that an executive order wouldn’t get the job done.

All of these statements were false.

On June 15, Trump said“You can’t do it through an executive order.”

Now everyone knows that there was a policy and it can be changed by the president without Congress, as shown by the fact that Trump signed a new executive order on Wednesday supposedly ending his policy of separating children from their parents.  When Trump did this he effectively admitted that all of the other statements were not true.

When he announced the new policy, Trump said:

“We’re going to keep families together, but we still have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want.”

Although many details are missing, Trump’s executive order is problematic in that it requires keeping children in immigration detention for longer than is allowed by law.

But he didn’t announce any details so nobody knows how this new executive order will work in practice, and nobody knows exactly what will happen next.

For example:

The new order doesn’t end the Department of Justice’s “zero-tolerance policy” of prosecuting all adults who are caught entering the country illegally.

So all adults still will be arrested.  The problem of what to do with the children has not been solved.

Since children can’t be prosecuted with their parents, the government treats them as though they had crossed the border alone and places them in shelters or with relatives already living in the United States.

Courts have ruled that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  must release undocumented immigrant children in their custody within 20 days.

The law also requires that children must be housed in the “least restrictive setting” while their immigration claims are resolved. This does not mean jail.

Trump’s executive order directs the Justice Department to go to court to ask for approval to keep children detained for longer than allowable 20 days.  

That’s how they plan to avoid family separations, since the decision to prosecute all parents still stands.

But the courts will probably deny Trump’s request for an exception to the 20 day rule, which throws much uncertainty into his plan.

There’s also a huge backlog of immigration cases at the border, not enough judges, not enough space to house families together, and limited funding to increase these resources.  This means the cases will not be resolved quickly and parents will not be out of detention within 20 days.  Some people think the backlog and shortage of judges has been done intentionally by Trump and Sessions.

Without congressional action, or without Trump rescinding his “zero-tolerance policy,” these issues will pose a logistical nightmare and complicate the president’s plan.  Thousands more adults will be arrested and thousands of more children will be with them.

The Department of Homeland Security said June 19 that 2,342 children have been separated from their parents since May, and the Department of Health and Human Services says it has not received new orders on how to handle them.

Trump’s executive order does not affect the thousands of children already being held in detention without their parents.  And nobody in government knows what to do about them.

And there is no plan in place to reunite separated children with their parents.

In some ways, Trump’s executive order makes the situation even more confusing than it was before.  It was done with no plan for dealing with the many legal and logistical issues that exist.

Children at the border are still suffering.  Thousands live alone in detention facilities, and under Trump’s new order, thousands more will be living in jails (if the courts allow it).

Trump’s move was done hastily and haphazardly with no forethought and without anticipating the many problems that have arisen. He did it for political purposes, but he is not likely to gain in that arena either as more images appear in the media of children in immigration prisons.

Republicans are in charge of the government and they need to fix this mess, but they don’t seem to have the will to do it, or even know what to do.  So the children will continue to suffer.