President Donald Trump has signed an executive order addressing the separation of migrant families at the US border.
The issue sparked outcry after his administration revealed it had separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents under a new “zero tolerance” immigration policy in recent weeks.
Trump said on Wednesday that the zero tolerance policy would continue but that he “didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated”.
The executive order, he said, was “about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border”.
“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” he added, according to pool reports.
Family separations have escalated under the new zero tolerance policy, which requires all adults caught crossing the border illegally to be referred for prosecution.
Adult immigrants facing charges are housed separately from their children, resulting in the separation of parents from children reportedly as young as 8 months old.
Trump’s executive order states that US policy is to “maintain family unity,” except in cases where doing so would threaten a child’s wellbeing.
The president directed the secretary of homeland security to house those facing prosecution alongside their family members, “to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations”.
He ordered the secretary of defence to identify any existing facilities for housing immigrant families, and to build more if necessary.
Trump also directed the attorney general to request a modification of the Flores Settlement Agreement – a 2015 court ruling that the administration has claimed bars them from housing families together.
It was unclear how the new executive order will square with the ruling, which requires migrant children to be released quickly from detention, or detained in the “least restrictive conditions” possible.