Due to a tremendous amount of national and international pressure, President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday, June 20, that continues the criminal prosecution of individuals or families who cross the border outside a designated point of entry. As defined in the order, an “alien family” includes anyone “who entered this country with an alien child or alien children at or between designated ports of entry and who was detained.” The order notes that it is the “policy of this administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together.”

The order indicates that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “will maintain custody of alien families” as they are processed through criminal or immigration courts. The order also calls on the Department of Defense to provide “existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families and shall construct such facilities if necessary.” Other executive agencies are also required to make facilities available, which would be reimbursed by DHS.  

The executive order requires the attorney general to file a suit that would modify an existing federal court decision (referred to as the Flores settlement) that prohibits the detention of children beyond 20 days. According to a CNBC report, DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimates an average length of stay in detention facilities of 44 days, even longer for some detainees. In addition, according to a brief from CLASP, under the agreement “facilities that hold children for more than 72 hours must be licensed, as other child residential facilities, by the state in which they operate.” The first lady and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited two facilities in McAllen, Texas including a children’s shelter that is housing 60 children ages 5-17.  

As noted in a message from Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, it is still not clear what will be done to provide for families awaiting processing or what the process will be for reuniting children in the system with their parents, particularly those who have already been deported. To date, the Alliance has released a position statement on this issue, joined with 13 of our nation’s top nonprofit human services organizations to issue a statement, and made it easy for you to take action and call your Congressional delegation with talking points.  

The Alliance will continue to monitor what is happening on the ground and in Washington, D.C., and share regular updates on changes in policy. If you are an Alliance member with experience in supporting detained families and unaccompanied minor children, email Carla Plaza, director of public policy and government relations. We are interested in learning more from you on how best to support these families and children through public policy advocacy.

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