Trump Signs an Executive Order to 'End Family Separation' by Locking Up Whole Families Indefinitely Instead

Rather than wait for any bill to pass Congress that might have placed some limits and rules around actions at the border, Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday afternoon which, according to Trump, ‘ended’ family separation by ordering that families be locked up together. Both Trump and Mike Pence spoke only briefly, chiefly to make assurances that this was still a “zero tolerance” policy. The title of the executive order “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation” makes it clear that Trump is not going to stop blaming Congress for the issue. And since no mention was made of any steps to be taken to reunite the families who have already been separated through the brutal application of Trump policy to date, it’s unclear that Trump is giving up his thousands of hostages now scattered around the country.

What is clear he’s now claiming to be the hero who saved immigrants while lamenting that the cause of family separation is “Congress’s failure to act.”

The actual test of the order is so fond of the word “alien” that it applies the term more times than the script for every Ridley Scott film combined. Included are definitions for not just regular “Aliens,” but “Alien families” and “Alien children.” This text also makes it clear that it is “the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce” laws. So no one should expect that the harsh and arbitrary application of those laws is going to change. The key changes to policy would seem to be found in section three:

The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary), shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.

The term “to the extent permitted by law” leaves wide open the questions about how this policy would apply beyond the 20 days that a child can currently be detained. And the “availability of appropriation” would suggest that the order can be ignored when there are no rooms at the nearest chain link Trump hotel. But the companies that have profited from the family separation policy shouldn’t worry — the order also includes provisions for building all new family prisons.

Also included: Provisions that children can be taken from their families if there is a “concern,” but unlike the bill signed by every Democrat in the Senate, there is no definition of what kind of concerns would be covered.

And because it’s an executive order, not a bill, it ends with the standard wording—everything in it is subject to being interpreted by the executive, or heads of executive agencies, as they see fit.

Alien families with their alien children might feel a bit relieved by this order. For human beings … this doesn’t seem any less scary than what was happening before.

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