'Children don't belong in jail': Critics are seizing on Trump's executive order to detain entire families together

  • Critics are seizing on President Donald Trump's executive order that ends family separation for migrants and instead seeks to detain entire families together if they cross the border illegally.
  • The Trump administration will have to amend an existing legal agreement known as the Flores settlement, which bars the government from detaining children longer than 20 days.
  • Indefinitely jailing children is inhumane, immigration advocates say, and there are better ways than detention to ensure migrant families properly navigate their asylum proceedings.

President Donald Trump reversed course on Wednesday after weeks of defending family separations, signing an executive order to end the practice of splitting up migrant parents from their kids and instead seek to detain entire families together.

Immigration advocates and experts who had condemned the family separations quickly voiced skepticism of the new order. They criticized the Trump administration for seeking to lock children up indefinitely, alongside their parents, and noted that the families who have already been separated may never reunite.

The executive order did not mention anything about reuniting the families who have already been separated, or whether it would even be possible to do so. In some cases, parents have already been deported while their children remain in the US.

"Kids should not have been separated from their parents in the first place and they still don't belong in jail," Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "He has caused irreparable damage to thousands of immigrant families."

'We can both be compassionate and honor the law'

GettyThe order maintains Trump's "zero tolerance" policy that criminally prosecutes all migrants who cross the US-Mexico border illegally, and seeks to hold them in detention while their asylum cases are processed.

Immigration advocates have lambasted the Trump administration for seeking to detain asylum-seekers indefinitely.

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Protests against family separations at US border
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Protests against family separations at US border
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 14: Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border without authorization on June 14, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 14: Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border without authorization on June 14, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: Young children alongside adults protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People shine cell phones and call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People shine cell phones and call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Sharon Chajon whose husband is a detained immigrant cries while people participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
New Jersey and New York Congressmen hold a news conference during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) speaks during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Maria Inga whose husband is a detained immigrant cries while people participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) speaks during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy that separates children from their families when entering the United States as undocumented immigrants in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
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Alternative programs for asylum-seekers — such as the now-terminated family case-management system that housed asylum-seekers rather than detained them — were far more humane, according to Anne Chandler, the executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center.

"Family detention — the jailing of children in mass incarceration facilities along with their parents — will not be tolerated either," Chandler said. "Courts have found that family detention violates the rights of children, is horribly costly to taxpayers, and causes the curtailment of due process rights and access to necessary legal and social services."

Though the Trump administration has argued that asylum-seekers who aren't incarcerated will skip their court hearings and remain in the US, studies have shown that asylum-seekers who are given alternatives to detention generally comply with their court proceedings when they're under minimal supervision and provided legal assistance.

"We can both be compassionate and honor the law," Matthew Soerens of World Relief said in a statement. "While being detained together may be marginally better than being detained separately, I think the vast majority of Americans fundamentally believe that kids don't belong in jail, period."

Are you are an immigrant who has been separated from your family at the border? Or do you work with families who have been detained or separated? Email mmark@businessinsider.com to share your story.

¿Es usted un inmigrante que ha sido separado de su familia en la frontera? ¿O trabajas con familias que han sido detenidas o separadas?Envíe un correo electrónico a mmark@businessinsider.com para compartir su historia.

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SEE ALSO: Caseworkers are desperately trying to help the kids separated from their parents, but many are so upset they can't talk — or too young to speak

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