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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump speaks before signing a Space Policy Directive during a National Space Council meeting at the White House on Monday. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

President Donald Trump abruptly reversed himself Wednesday and signed an executive order halting his administration's policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.

It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who has been insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.

The news in recent days has been dominated by images of children held in cages at border facilities as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked anger and concern from Republicans about a negative effect on their races in November's midterm elections.

Until Wednesday, the president, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials had repeatedly argued the only way to end the practice was for Congress to pass new legislation, while Democrats said Trump could do it with his signature alone. That's what he did Wednesday.

[FULL TEXT: Read Trump's executive order]

"We're going to have strong, very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together," said Trump who added that he didn't like the "sight" or "feeling" of children separated from their parents.

The order does not end the "zero-tolerance" policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. It keeps families together while they are in custody, expedites their cases, and asks the Department of Defense to help house them.

Justice Department lawyers have been working to find a legal workaround for a previous class-action settlement that set policies for the treatment and release of unaccompanied children who are caught at the border. Trump's new order states the attorney general will seek to modify the agreement, known as the Flores settlement, to allow Homeland Security to detain families together until criminal and removal proceedings are completed.

Trump's order leaves room to separate children from parents if it's best for the child's welfare.

Assessments for possible detainee use have been done at three bases in Texas: Dyess Air Force Base, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Fort Bliss. An assessment is expected Thursday at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

[RELATED: Governor says federal agency considering 2 sites in Arkansas to house migrants]

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center said the order didn't go nearly far enough.

"The administration still plans to criminalize families — including children — by holding them in prison-like detention facilities. There are workable alternatives," president Richard Cohen said in a statement.

It's also unclear what will happen to the children already separated. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department will start reuniting detained immigrant children with their parents — but he made no specific commitment on how quickly that can be accomplished.

Trump's family apparently played a role in his turnaround.

A White House official said first lady Melania Trump had been making her opinion known to the president for some time that she felt he needed to do all he could to help families stay together, whether by working with Congress or acting on his own.

And daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted, "Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border."

Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon to brief lawmakers. And lawmakers on the fence over pending immigration legislation headed to the White House to meet with Trump.

Two people close to Nielsen said she was the driving force behind the turnabout that led to the new order keeping families together. Those people were not authorized to speak publicly and commented only on condition of anonymity.

One of them said Nielsen, who had become the face of the administration's policy, had little faith that Congress would act to fix the separation issue and felt compelled to act. She was heckled at a restaurant Tuesday evening and has faced protesters at her home.

Trump had tweeted early Wednesday, before issuing his order: "It's the Democrats fault, they won't give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation. They want open borders, which breeds horrible crime. Republicans want security. But I am working on something - it never ends!"

The "zero tolerance" policy put into place last month moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Under President Barack Obama's administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation. There currently are three family detention centers with a total 2,700-bed capacity.

The policy had led to an increase in family separations in recent weeks, with more than 2,300 minors separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to Homeland Security.

[RELATED COVERAGE: State's top Democrats to ask governor to stop deploying Arkansas National Guard soldiers to border]

The Flores settlement, named for a teenage girl who brought the case in the 1980s, requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference. If those options are exhausted, authorities must find the "least restrictive" setting for a child who arrived without parents.

In 2015, a federal judge in Los Angeles expanded the terms of the settlement, ruling that it applies to children who are caught with their parents as well as to those who come to the U.S. alone. Other recent rulings, upheld on appeal, affirm the children's rights to a bond hearing and require better conditions at the Border Patrol's short-term holding facilities.

In 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that child migrants who came to the border with parents and were held in custody must be released. The decision did not state parents must be released. Neither, though, did it require parents to be kept in detention, apart from their children.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • abb
    June 20, 2018 at 11:26 a.m.

    Looking forward to reversing of more of Obama's policies....MAGA!

  • AncientUnicorn
    June 20, 2018 at 11:27 a.m.

    Please let this actually be true.

  • RBear
    June 20, 2018 at 11:34 a.m.

    This further validates what opponents of this policy shift have been saying all along. This was something Trump could fix if he wanted to, but preferred to use children to attempt to exhort money from Congress for border wall funding. However, the stupidity of this move, architected by Steve Miller, proved to be cruel and abusive. It was just another in the failed series of attempts by Miller to craft some of the most abusive immigration policies in our nation's history.
    ...
    Trump failed on this one and put forth lie after lie to attempt to salvage the insanely stupid policy shift. His minions attempted to repeat those lies and were proven to be liars themselves by not researching the details. Others put forth false hypotheticals that only showed how illiterate they were to the issues, things like these children being housed in what would be considered a summer camp.
    ...
    Fortunately, the nation rebuked this president and the hard liners. The incident won't be forgetten, especially for those who supported Trump during this tragic period of our nation.

  • RBear
    June 20, 2018 at 11:35 a.m.

    abb showing more of your issue illiteracy. This move would reverse TRUMP's policies, not Obama's. You show how poorly the Trump demographic understands issues.

  • JiminyC56
    June 20, 2018 at 11:53 a.m.

    Way to go Trump! Keep up the good work.

  • wolfman
    June 20, 2018 at 12:05 p.m.

    simply amazing how the trump whiners continue to blame the democrats for something trump has had full control over from the get go. Trump is a complete douche bag. and yall are so ignorant as to support him.

  • JakeTidmore
    June 20, 2018 at 12:14 p.m.

    "Donald Trump's disgusting attempt to appear heroic by signing an executive order to temporarily end a policy of systematic child abuse that he pushed for, enabled, and excused is one of the vilest, politically-craven moves we've seen in the history of American politics.

    "Let's be clear: Donald Trump and the administration he runs have spent nearly six weeks systematically ripping infants, toddlers, and children from the arms of asylum-seeking mothers and fathers fleeing violence and placing them in concentration camps and foster homes.

    “No executive order Donald Trump signs can even begin to erase the psychological torment he's subjected these children and families to or the profound moral shame the actions of the Trump administration have brought to the country.

    "Along with millions of Americans across the country, we refuse to be silent until every single infant, toddler, and child that Donald Trump's administration has ripped from their parents' arms is returned to them; all immigrants and families who are being needlessly and possibly illegally detained are freed; and the people who organized, perpetrated, and cheered on this immoral assault on human decency are brought to justice in the courts and at the ballot box." — Jim Dean, Chair, Democracy for America

  • JiminyC56
    June 20, 2018 at 12:22 p.m.

    Wolf, I don't see any whining on this thread by the Trump whiners as you call it. But your post on the other hand is full of hate and name calling......just what I would expect from a democrat. Oh well, look on the bright side.....Trump is half way through year 2.....only 6 more to go!

  • RBear
    June 20, 2018 at 12:27 p.m.

    And Jiminy shows more stupidity by ignoring all the comments on other threads. But keep that up. It just further validates how issue illiterate the Trump demographic is.

  • Packman
    June 20, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    Having to take a break from eating popcorn and watching libs meltdown to make a serious observation. The lies and inflammatory rhetoric from the left has placed us in perilous times. Don't be surprised if some radicalized Trump hater turns into another Timothy McVeigh or moron shooting at republicans on a softball field.
    .
    And what is that insane rhetoric? Peter Fonda is the latest leftist to encourage violence against Trump supporters, ICE agents, and republicans in general. Last night a group of bullies harassed Ms. Nielsen as she tried to enjoy a peaceful dinner meal. Sadly, it's only a matter of time until the attacks become physical.
    .
    So, what is the FAKE NEWS being spread to incite such violence? Some of the more infamous photos of kids in cages were taken when Obama was POTUS but presented as current; it's been reported this didn't happen under Obama, which it did; it's been reported legal asylum seekers have been separated from their kids, and they have not; it's been said President Trump isn't following the law, which is a total lie.
    .
    Lies of omission are taking place as well. The media fails to report that most of these kids are unaccompanied, having been separated from their parents weeks/months earlier; there are no reports of the widespread maltreatment of minors on the journey to the US; the media routinely omits the word "illegal" in front of the word "immigrant"; there is no reporting among the mainstream media that many politicians critical of the current policy actually spoke in favor of it previously when the politics was different.
    .
    I'm still eating popcorn watching libs lose their minds but will stop when their lies and rhetoric incite violent attacks. Then, I will put down the popcorn and pick up my trusted Glock (or Kimber or Colt or whatever is most appropriate for the moment) and be thankful for the 2A.

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