By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON/MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was directing federal agencies to begin reuniting children and parents who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border after entering the country illegally, a first step to implementing his executive order reversing a policy that had drawn global condemnation.
Trump’s announcement came as his wife, Melania, made a damage-control visit to a border detention facility in Texas where children are being held. Video footage of children sitting in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked anger as the images were broadcast worldwide.
Facing that pressure, Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to stop the separations and keep families together during immigration proceedings. The order still faces possible legal challenges and administration lawyers were expected to file a request as early as Thursday to modify a 1997 court settlement that limits the government’s detention of minors to 20 days.
Trump’s order, an unusual reversal by him, moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings, but it does not end a 10-week-old “zero tolerance” policy that calls for prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally under the country’s criminal entry statute.
The administration also has called for a permanent legislative fix, but congressional Republicans said the House was likely to reject two immigration bills designed to halt the practice of splitting up families and address a range of other immigration issues.
(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)