The images of detained children separated from families has gripped the US as politicians bicker
Trump signs executive order ending process of separating migrant children from families
Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday afternoon ending the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the US border illegally.
It marked a climbdown for a president who had previously refused to give way despite days of angry protests and a growing political crisis.
Mr Trump faced opposition within his own party and even his own family – officials said his wife was among those lobbying privately – to soften his zero-tolerance stance.
However, opponents fear the new stance may be a tactic to increase pressure on Democrats to compromise and pass Republican legislation to fund Mr Trump’s border wall and tighten immigration controls.
The text of the order insists that illegal immigrants be subject to prosecution but adds: “It is also the policy of this administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”
It seeks modification of existing rules that prevent children being kept in adult facilities for sustained periods of time.
Mr Trump’s supporters were quick to praise his intervention.
Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, who had been criticised for her silence on the issue, tweeted: "Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border. Congress must now act and find a lasting solution that is consistent with our shared values; the same values that so many come here seeking as they endeavour to create a better life for their families."
Pictures of children in cages have dominated American news media since Sunday, raising fears the issue could define crucial midterm elections in the autumn and hand control of Congress to Democrats.
The issue pitted hardliners in the party who back Donald Trump’s stance on a zero-tolerance approach to illegal immigrants against those who say locking up children is inhumane and counter to American values.
Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, said the issue raised the central problem faced by the party in the Trump era: His right-wing base was chasing a shrinking share of an electorate troubled by the president’s policies.
“I don’t think he has reached the limits of his populism,” he said. “A lot of his supporters think he is doing the right thing.”
In contrast, Republican candidates, he said, knew they risked losing votes from independents and moderates if they followed the president’s lead on such an explosive policy.
Meanwhile, Republicans hope the legislation will provide a longer-term solution. They are drafting two bills that would tighten immigration controls while allowing families to stay together in custody.
The president is trying to link an end to family separations with the passage of a wider bill that would include funding for his long-sought border wall with Mexico, prompting Democrats to accuse him of using children as hostages.
“In his remarks, he endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah.
Democrats have signalled they will not allow Mr Trump to play politics with the lives of thousands of children.
Chuck Schumer, who leads the party in the Senate, said on Twitter: “Anyone who believes this Republican Congress is capable of addressing this issue is kidding themselves. @realDonaldTrump can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”
Meanwhile, immigrants continue to arrive at the border.
In the latest figures, US immigration officials say 2,342 children were taken from 2,206 parents at the border during the month up to 9 June, all part of a “zero tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigration announced by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general in April.
More details of the policy continue to emerge. Babies and toddlers are being sent to three "tender age" shelters, the Associated Press news agency reported. It cited doctors and lawyers who visited the sites describing children as hysterical.
Many leading Republicans have distanced themselves from the policy.
Ted Cruz, a conservative senator from Texas, has moved from criticising Democratic concern about the separations to pushing for an end to the policy.
"All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers," he said as he announced he was working on legislation. "This must stop. immediately.”
And a number of evangelical Christian leaders – who provided crucial support to Mr Trump during the election – have added their condemnation.
Mr Sessions himself faces the wrath of his own church. More than 600 members of the United Methodist Church accused him in a letter of “child abuse” and of breaching its moral code.
“As his denomination, we have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matters contrary to the Discipline on the global stage,” they wrote.
Opinion polls show the policy is wildly unpopular with Americans, although 55 per cent of Republicans back it, according to a survey published by Quinnipiac University on Monday.
That may not be enough for Republicans running in tight races.
"Swing voters, soccer moms, middle-class voters are being turned off by what they are seeing down there," said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist.
The result is political deadlock while an angry wave consumes America.
A California couple who set up a Facebook page to raise money to help fund legal services for newly arrived immigrants in Texas said they were stunned by the response.
After appealing on Saturday for $1,500 – the minimum needed to pay a bond to leave detention and be reunited with family – Charlotte and Dave Willner said they were amazed to see their appeal bring in almost $9 million by Wednesday morning.
At one point the money was pouring in at more than $3,000 a minute.
“That's truly stunning and a massive testament to the desire of people to help with this horrifying situation,” wrote Mr Willner on Facebook.