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WHAT'S HAPPENING: Trump orders an end to family separations

Last Updated Jun 20, 2018 at 7:40 pm EST

President Donald Trump, center, listens to Vice President Mike Pence, right, address members of the media before signing an executive order to end family separations at the border, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Looking on is Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, left. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

After days of mounting pressure, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the U.S. border illegally.

It was a dramatic turnaround for the president, who had insisted, wrongly, that his administration had no choice because of federal law and a court decision. Meanwhile, federal officials were trying to work out how to reunite immigrant children and parents who have been detained in separate facilities. A look at the latest developments:

TRUMP SIGNS ORDER

The president said his order would not end the “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. The order aims to keep families together while they are in custody, to expedite their cases and asks the Department of Defence to help house families.

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 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 is likely to create a new set of problems involving length of detention of families, and it may spark a fresh court fight.

HOUSE SPEAKER PUSHES FOR VOTES

House Speaker Paul Ryan is pushing ahead with votes on rival GOP immigration bills, but neither appears to have enough support for passage, prompting Trump’s executive action.

Trump has said he’s “1,000 per cent” behind both GOP bills, but restive House Republicans have all but begged GOP leaders for more clarity about what the president would actually sign. Public outcry is mounting over the family separations, but so far, there’s no clear roadmap for Thursday voting on the emotional issue dividing Republicans.

With the immigration bills teetering in the House, the White House launched an eleventh-hour push to try to bring Republicans onboard.

A group of wavering lawmakers was sent to the White House to meet with Trump in hopes he can persuade them. But congressional action remains uncertain. Facing condemnation of the family separations from across the political spectrum, the White House took action.

ATTORNEY GENERAL’S CHURCH DENOUNCES HIM

More than 600 members of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ church have denounced him over the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Members of the United Methodist Church from across the country signed a letter Monday accusing Sessions of child abuse, immorality and racial discrimination. They also chided Sessions for using biblical scripture to defend the policy, saying it runs counter to the church’s doctrine.

Sessions also was blasted in a separate letter signed by 75 former U.S. attorneys from both parties, who asked him to end the family separation policy at the border. Their letter, published Monday on Medium, said the policy results in families and children being greeted “with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States.”

ATLANTA MAYOR WON’T ACCEPT NEW DETAINEES

Atlanta’s Democratic mayor called the forced separation of migrant families at the country’s Southern border “despicable” and said the city won’t accept any new immigration detainees until she’s certain the separations have stopped.

The city has long had an agreement to house Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees in the city jail. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Wednesday declaring the jail won’t take any more until she gets assurances from the Trump administration that the policy has been rescinded and the separations have ceased.

‘TENDER AGE’ SHELTERS

The Associated Press has learned that babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border are being sent to “tender age” shelters in South Texas.

Playrooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis were described by lawyers and medical providers who visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters. The government plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Rachel Maddow, host of her eponymous show on MSNBC, broke down while she was live on the air sharing the AP’s exclusive story describing these shelters. After trying to get through the first couple of sentences, she said, “I’m sorry. I think I’m going to have to hand this off,” ending her segment.

NO PLANS ON HOW TO REUNITE FAMILIES

Trump administration officials say they haven’t yet figured out how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border.

“We’re still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Federal officials have set up hotlines and an email contact for parents seeking information about how to find their children.

“They should just give the kids back to their parents. This isn’t difficult,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

AMA EXECUTIVE SAYS TREATMENT COULD AFFECT CHILDREN FOR LIFE

The American Medical Association’s chief executive officer says childhood trauma and inhumane treatment often create negative health impacts that can last a lifetime.

Dr. James Madara made the comment in a letter to the Trump administration Tuesday demanding an end to the practice of separating children from their parents at the southern border.

Madara sent the letter to the secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services and to the attorney general.

Some argue that the policy is nothing new and that the United States of America has a history of breaking up families, detaining children and sanctioning others who do so .

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See AP’s complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration .