Donald Trump has reversed his course on the biggest issue consuming global headlines today, signing an executive order ending family separations at the US-Mexico border after an unsurprisingly huge and negative public response.
The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings resulted in extremely grim scenes as migrant children were forcibly separated from their parents and taken to separate detention centres. Imagery of children in cages were seen in media across the world, and a vast response from the public followed.
For the past few days, Trump has been maintaining the line that only by the Democrats agreeing to pass an immigration bill could the situation be dealt with, whereas Democrats argued that Trump could remedy the problem by signing an executive order. By signing an executive order, Trump is essentially admitting that his previous comments were bluster.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 20, 2018
“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” Trump said as he signed the order in the Oval Office. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
(It’s definitely intriguing that even Trump is capable of mustering a kind of distant, abstract empathy for displaced people which seems utterly beyond the reach of almost every Australian politician, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
The executive order does not wind back the zero-tolerance policy, which still directs the Justice Department to criminally prosecute as many border-crossing offences as it possibly can. This will still include families with children. They will now be kept together in detention centres.
House Republicans are still hopeful they can pass their own stringent immigration bill, even though the issue of family separation is no longer motivating Democrats to compromise. The Washington Post reports that a survey finds there are almost certainly not enough votes for such a bill to pass.
But this just goes to show that turning up the heat on the Trump administration can still back them out of some of their most vicious policies and enforcement mechanisms. There’s still a long way to go.