An end to family separations at the US border may be in sight after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to keep parents and children together.
The development, however, contradicts repeated assertions from top administration officials that only Congress could act to end the separations.
Here’s what Trump and other administration officials said earlier on family separations before Trump announced the executive order.
“What I’m asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis,” Trump said during a speech on Tuesday,
Before that, Trump said in the same speech, “Under current law, we have only two policy options to respond to this massive crisis. We can either release all illegal immigrant families and minors who show up at the border from Central America or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entry. Those are the only two options, totally open borders or criminal prosecution for law-breaking.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday during a White House press briefing, “We need Congress to fully fund our ability to hold families together through the immigration process.”
Nielsen added, “Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible, as a matter of law, to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States. Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it.”
She maintained that position on Wednesday after Trump signed the executive order.
“Only Congress can act to secure the border. Yes, I do,” she said when I asked if she stood by her comments. “We need to change the law so I have the authority to secure the border for the American people.”
“We have court cases that prohibit us from keeping families together,” she added.
Nielsen didn’t explain how to reconcile that statement with Trump’s signing of the order.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley was asked on NPR on Tuesday whether the President would act to end the separations. “Why doesn’t he just end it?” NPR’s David Greene asked Gidley, referring to Trump, adding, “The President has the power to end this now.”
Gidley argued that Congress needed to act, not Trump.
“The buck stops with the people who make the laws in this country, and that’s Congress. And they could change this right now.” Later, Gidley said, “This can be fixed and must be fixed from Congress. They make the laws.”
At the end of the interview, Gidley said, “I hate the situation, but it’s got to be fixed by Congress.”
Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of strategic communications, suggested to reporters at the White House on Tuesday that responsibility to stop family separations rested with Congress.
“Does the President acknowledge he does have the power to fix this?” a reporter asked Schlapp. She replied, “I think in the end Congress has the power to fix this. We’re just executing the law.” She added, “The President has the power to fix this in the sense that we’re only simply enforcing the law. The President is going to work with Congress.”
Schlapp also echoed what the DHS secretary had said previously, saying, “Congress alone can fix it,” after a reporter asked if the policy was intended to serve as a deterrent.
CNN’s Tal Kopan, Manu Raju, Sarah Westwood and Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.