Several US states are suing the Trump administration over its ‘zero tolerance’ policy that led to thousands of migrant children being split from their families on the US border with Mexico.
Although president Donald Trump reversed course, signing an executive order on Wednesday to end the practice following domestic and international outrage, Washington State on Thursday said it will lead a coalition of states legally challenging ‘the policy of forced family separation on the US southern border.’
Despite Trump’s order, there was no immediate plan in place for family reunification.
‘We have no way to predict from one day to the next what this president’s policies or intentions are,’ Washington state governor Jay Inslee said in a statement.
‘These cruel policies and this executive order are un-American and create chaos, fear and uncertainty. Washington continues to stand ready to ensure this president is held accountable.’
In an effort to staunch the flow of tens of thousands of migrants from Central America and Mexico arriving at the southern boundary every month, Trump in early May ordered that all those crossing the border illegally would be arrested, and their children held separately as a result.
Nearly all of the arriving families, and many others, have officially requested asylum, citing the incessant violence in their home countries.
Trump’s executive order ‘does nothing to reunify families already torn apart by the Trump Administration’s policy,’ the Washington state attorney general’s office said.
‘Second, the order is riddled with so many caveats as to be meaningless,’ it said in a statement.
The UN on Friday acknowledged Washington’s decision to stop separating migrant families at the US-Mexico border but insisted that detaining children with their parents was not the solution.
‘Children should never be detained for reasons related to their or their parents’ migration status,’ UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.
‘It is never in the best interest of the child for them to be detained,’ she said.
Meanwhile, Melania Trump made a surprise trip to the US-Mexican border on Thursday as her husband’s administration seeks to quell a firestorm over migrant family separations, while Republican lawmakers were forced to delay a high-stakes vote on the crisis.
While president Donald Trump’s administration struggled to formulate next steps, the Pentagon signalled officials were bracing for a lengthy ordeal. The military said it will prepare to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on its bases.
The first lady’s unannounced visit came a day after the president - in a stunning about-face - moved to end the practice of splitting migrant families, which had prompted outrage at home and abroad.
There was, however, no immediate plan in place to reunite the more than 2,300 children already separated from their families - igniting a fresh controversy over the conditions in which the children are living.
In McAllen, Texas, Melania Trump visited the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter, a federally-funded facility that houses about 55 children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, ages five to 17.
‘I’m glad I’m here and I’m looking forward to seeing the children,’ Melania said at a roundtable discussion with social workers and government officials.
‘I would also like to ask you how I can help these children to reunite with their families as quickly as possible.’
Images and recordings of wailing youngsters detained in processing centres with chain-link cage-like enclosures has ignited global outrage.
The first lady herself had called for a political compromise to end the separations - the result of the administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy launched in early May, under which illegal border crossers were systematically prosecuted and their children separated from them as a result.
Melania spent an hour-plus at the shelter, talking directly to children who spoke to her either in English or in Spanish, through a translator.
One girl said she had been at the shelter for two months. Another told Trump they were learning how to celebrate the Fourth of July.
‘Usually when they get here, they’re very distraught,’ one official said.
Melania Trump was unable to escape controversy on the trip. She boarded and exited her plane wearing a jacket which read ‘I really don’t care. Do U?’ - a cryptic message that sent the internet ablaze.