WASHINGTON — President Trump has signed ab executive order to keep families together at the border and says the 'zero-tolerance' prosecution policy will continue.
The U.S. government has separated more than 2,300 children from their parents in recent weeks in a policy that stoked widespread outrage among both Democrats and Republicans.
Trump said he didn't like the sight of families being separated, according to a pool report. He said the "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally would continue.
"It's about keeping families together," Trump said, "while ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border."
The directive prepared for the president instructs the Justice Department to allow children to be detained along with their family members while they await a hearing — even if that process takes more than 20 days.
"I think the word 'compassion' comes into it," he said. "My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way," he added.
"We have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don't stand for, that we don't want," Trump said earlier Wednesday when he announced he would be signing the order.
The president's move comes amid growing outrage over the practice and on the eve of House votes Thursday to address the immigration problem.
Multiple groups had insisted that the president had the power to stop family separation by ending the Justice Department's "zero-tolerance" policy that anyone who crosses the border illegally will be criminally prosecuted.
Last night, Trump told lawmakers his daughter Ivanka had shown him images of children in detention facilities and urged him to end the separation practice. Trump's daughter stood in the back of the Cabinet Room as the president made his announcement.
In a statement from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, she said:
“I, like many others, have been horrified watching the impact of President Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy on children and families. My personal angst has been compounded by the City of Atlanta’s long-standing agreement with the U. S. Marshall’s Office to house ICE detainees in our City jail. While this arrangement may seem hypocritical to my personal stance, the reality of the detention of those seeking legal status in our country is most often not if they are detained, but where they will be held. As we work as a nation to end this despicable immigration policy, the City of Atlanta will not take the risk of being complicit in the separation of families at the border. Thus, I have signed an Executive Order that prohibits the City jail from accepting any new ICE detainees.
“I am concerned that the City’s refusal to accept detainees will result in individuals being sent to private, substandard, for-profit facilities in the state, as these facilities do not offer publicly-funded access to legal representation that may help detainees successfully challenge their immigration status, but the inhumane action of family separation demands that Atlanta act now.
“On behalf of the people of Atlanta, I am calling upon the Trump Administration and Congress to enact humane and comprehensive measures that address our broken immigration system.
“I have instructed City officials to closely monitor this situation and ensure that Atlanta continues to fulfill our legacy of inclusion, compassion and tolerance.”
ABC News and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
Cox Media Group