UPDATE: Donald Trump signs executive order ending family separation at border

"I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it," Trump said about controversial child separations

By Joseph Neese

Executive Editor

Published June 20, 2018 1:17PM (EDT)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Herika Martinez/Salon)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Herika Martinez/Salon)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration Wednesday in the Oval Office barring migrant families from being separated at the border, but he insisted he would maintain his administration's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal immigration.

"We don’t like to see families separated," the president said. "At the same time, we don’t want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem."

Earlier in the day, Trump had pledged to reporters that he would take action on the escalating crisis at the southern U.S. border that has sparked outrage around the world. Thousands of children have been ripped away from their parents as a result of the "zero-tolerance" policy that treats all unauthorized border crossings as prosecutable crimes.

According to the federal government, almost 2,000 kids were separated from their families during the six-week period ending May 31. Some advocates and observers believe the real number is considerably larger.

While resolving the immediate humanitarian emergency at hand, the president made it clear to his base that his hardline stance on immigration remained resolute.

“We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally," Trump said.

Trump's administration had previously sought to blame the Democratic Party, in particular, for its hard-right policy, which was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 6.

“Congress and the courts created these problems, and Congress alone can fix it,” declared Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who became the public face of the administration's policy, during an infamous White House briefing.

In the end, it was ultimately Trump who caved to pressure -- a distinctly unusal outcome -- and provided a fix to a problem his own administration created. In announcing the reversal, the president suggested that his wife, first lady Melania Trump, and daughter, senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump, were key influencers.

“Ivanka feels very strongly about it, my wife feels very strongly about it," Trump said. "I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it."

Both women, who claim to be advocates for women and children, had remained publicly silent as the drama unfolded. As Salon's Rachel Leah recently wrote:

Uncharacteristically, first lady Melania Trump released a lukewarm statement about how heartbreaking it is for children to be separated from their parents, though her words seemed to mirror Trump's view that it is the Democratic Party's fault for not allocating funds to his border wall.

From Laura Bush to Ted Cruz, even hardline conservatives are condemning this immigration policy. Ivanka Trump, if you are a supporter of women and families, it is time to speak up. In fact, it is long overdue.

The silence from both women lead many prominent figures on daytime television to ask, "Where is Ivanka?"

"Because, she’s all for women and mothers, and she has a White House role and a job," a visibly frustrated Meghan McCain said Tuesday on ABC's "The View." "I’m sort of interested that her whole platform has been women and mothers, and she doesn’t seem to have anything to say about this?"

On MSNBC, Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of "Morning Joe," declared that Ivanka Trump had once again missed the mark "every step of the way."

"This is a story about women and their vital role as mothers, and when you have babies being taken away from their mothers, you have to ask why the counselor to the president — who was brought in to help the president perhaps create good policies surrounding women, parental leave, domestic policies that are important to women in this country — you have to ask why Ivanka Trump is so tone deaf to post a picture about her special day yesterday with her daughter?" Brzezinski asked on Monday.

Wednesday afternoon's news came with little surprise, after the president teased an executive action to reporters earlier in the day.

“I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that,” Trump said. “I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation, I’m sure.”

DOJ officials were busy Wednesday crafting the text of an executive order for Trump's signature, according to CNN. The network further reported:

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not at the meeting at the White House, his chief of staff has been there to represent the Justice Department, the source added.

Additionally, a senior administration official tells CNN that Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen has been at the White House all morning in the room with the President and key staff, calling her a “key player” who was urging for action to be taken.

The administration is still pushing for congressional action, the senior official said, and is looking at the Flores settlement, which prohibits children with their families from being detained longer than 20 days.

“We want the ability to be able to detain and remove families swiftly,” the official said, declining to go into details of the order.

Trump defended his administration's actions on Wednesday in an extended rant about strength versus weakness.

"The dilemma is that if you're weak – if you're weak, which some people would like you to be – if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country's going to be overrun with millions of people," he said at the White House. "And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart."

"That's a tough dilemma," the president continued at a roundtable of congressional Republicans. "Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that's a tough dilemma."

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Border Crisis Donald Trump Family Separation Immigration Melania Trump