Backlash intensifies against USA migrant family separations

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The policy, introduced in May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, caused widespread outrage in the U.S. this week after pictures of children being separated from their parents and placed in detention were splashed across the media.

After huddling for 45 minutes with fellow Republicans to discuss immigration, Trump exited a meeting room only to be shouted at by a handful of House Democrats angry over the thousands of children who have been separated from their parents as they cross into the country. Under that policy, the administration has sought to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible, including those involving families with children. Orrin Hatch of Utah, wrote the Trump administration asking it to pause the separation of immigrant families until Congress comes up with a solution.

Democrats said the images of children being held in cages in border facilities, some crying for their parents, would be a moment remembered in US history.

Meanwhile, Democrats spent Wednesday morning calling on Trump and congressional Republicans to end the policy in speeches on the House floor.

While top officials have stood by Trump's "zero tolerance" approach, insisting children are being held in humane conditions, criticism has swelled from global rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former USA first ladies and the president's own Republican Party.

"When an alien enters or attempts to enter the country anywhere else, that alien has committed at least the crime of improper entry and is subject to a fine or imprisonment", the order said, adding that the administration's new policy will be to "maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources".

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening about the order, Gene Hamilton, counselor to Sessions, referred questions about families that have already been separated to DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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"We have to get the Democrats to go ahead and work with us because as a result of Democrat-supported loopholes in our federal laws, most illegal immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrive unlawfully at the border can not be detained together or removed together - only released", he said.

"We see the crisis right now as what's being happening to these families being separated", said Rep. Val Demings (D) Florida.

Signing an executive order to reverse his own administration's practice would also be unnecessary since nearly everyone in Washington, apart from the President, agrees that he already has the power to end the separations any time he wants.

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

Trump had tweeted earlier Wednesday that he was "working on something", once again blaming Democrats for refusing to support Republican legislation created to keep families detained together after they're arrested at the border.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday came face to face with furious Democratic lawmakers who launched a loud and very rare US Capitol protest of the American leader over his controversial immigration policies.

House Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the priority of ending the separations has been slotted into a compromise bill now under consideration and favored by GOP moderates. "It's a problem that's gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations".

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To address the rise of families being separated at the border, the measure proposes keeping children in detention with their parents, undoing 2-decade-old rules that limit the time minors can be held in custody.

Instead, the process requires coordination between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which holds numerous parents, and HHS, which takes custody of children and places them with adult "sponsors".

"The administration still plans to criminalize families - including children - by holding them in prison-like detention facilities".

"There is complete chaos", said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney whose organization is suing to force the government to promptly return children to their parents.

"This isn't who we are", Coffman said.

But even after the meeting, it was unclear which of two rival immigration bills being brought by Republicans Trump favors. Those include the Flores settlement and other laws that prevent migrant children from being detained for extended periods after they're caught illegally crossing the border. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their hearings and possible deportation proceedings.

The measure would also offer protections to another vulnerable group - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients - who are undocumented immigrants brought to the USA as children.

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And the EU's trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said she was "very worried" the row with Mr Trump could trigger a "full trade war". Canada's retaliatory measures begin on July 1, and Mexico and other nations have also announced they will respond.