Executive Order on Family Separation Explained

On June 20, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation.” Below is a brief overview and insight into why the order was likely created, what it does, and the challenges we still face.


1. Why Did President Trump Create this Executive Order?

President Trump likely created this executive order in response to the overwhelming public and political backlash over the separation of families at the southern United States border.

In March 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging that “There have been at least 429 cases of immigrant parents being separated from their children in the past two years.”[1] The New York Times notes that according to a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security, from April 19 to May 31, 1,995 children “were separated from 1,940 adults.”[2]

The outstanding public and political reaction, condemning such policies are likely what prompted President Trump to create this executive order.

2. What Does the Order Say? 

The order from the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) explains that the Trump Administration is firmly committed to immigration prosecution, but also to family unity throughout the process. To read the exact order, click here.

3. What Does it Do?

The order directs DHS to detain family units without separating children from parents, “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.” It also orders the Department of Justice to file a request to modify the Flores settlement.[3]

The order also requires Homeland Security Secretary to maintain custody of detained families during criminal proceedings and as their asylum claims are adjudicated. In order to house families in detention, the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the heads of other agencies are ordered to find or construct facilities. Last, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ordered to prioritize the adjudication of cases involving detained families.

4. What Challenges are Still Present?

The order does not discuss what will happen to the thousands of children and parents that have already been separated. It also doesn’t force the government to stop separating families. The language saying the DHS will detain “alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources,” creates possible loopholes for DHS to continue separating families. Additionally, the order encourages prosecution of anyone crossing the border illegally and the detention of families, which means detention of children.  

5. How Can You Help?

To help end the separation and detention of families, check out our blog post with tips compiled by local attorneys! Learn more here.


Have You or Someone You Know Been Affected by Separation of Families at the Border?

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by separation of families at the border recently or in the past, we encourage you to contact our office as soon as possible. Our office is located at: 200 University Avenue W., Suite 200, St. Paul, MN 55103.

We can be reached by phone at: (651) 771-0019.

[1] MS. L V. ICE - MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION, American Civil Liberties Union (Mar. 9, 2018), https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/ms-l-v-ice-memorandum-support-motion-class-certification.

[2] Julie Hirschfield Davis, Separated at the Border From Their Parents: In Six Weeks, 1,995 Children, The New York Times (June 15, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/us/politics/trump-immigration-separation-border.html.  

[3] The Flores Settlement is a 1997 case which required the government keep unaccompanied minors in the least restrictive setting and limit their time in detention. This was later modified to explain that children should not be held in detention for more than 20 days.