The day before he signed an executive order regarding his administration’s migrant family separation policy, President Donald Trump told advisers “my people love it,” the New York Times reported Friday.
The Times cited an “unnamed person close to the President” in reporting the news. The White House did not respond to TPM’s request for comment about the report Saturday.
Trump signed an executive order Wednesday with the stated intent of keeping families together in detention centers while they await immigration proceedings. But it’s not clear what exactly will occur in practice: For one thing, the so-called Flores Settlement still limits time children and families can be held in migrant detention centers. (The Justice Department asked a federal court to modify the settlement on Thursday.)
A handful of reports from the border indicate that, contrary to Trump and the Justice Department’s claims, prosecutors may have ended their systematic pursuit of criminal charges against all parents apprehended with children at the border. But it’s unclear if those changes will become permanent or system-wide.
Those systematic criminal prosecutions were what made Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ April “zero tolerance” letter to prosecutors a de facto family separation policy: Because children cannot be held in criminal detention, they were placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and classified as “unaccompanied alien children” as their parents’ cases proceeded through criminal court.
According to the Times’ sources, Customs and Border Protection officials argued to Trump on Thursday that the Justice Department “and other law enforcement agencies” did not have the resources to criminally prosecute every family apprehended at the border.
USA Today reported Friday that in May, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego warned that focusing prosecutors’ energy on parents apprehended with children would divert resources away from pursuing more serious crimes like drug smuggling.
And on Friday, the Times reported, CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan “question[ed] how his agency was supposed to detain parents and children together when the law requires that children not be held indefinitely in jail.”