Executive order ends family separations at the border, kind of


An order from the White House sort of ends family separations at the border. That, plus more news on immigration in this week’s politics roundup.

Executive order ends family separations. Kind of.

After a long series of news stories, photographs, and steadily building public outrage, the President has issued an executive order that effectively ends family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border for undocumented immigrants.

This executive order may cause at least as much trouble as it is purported to solve, however. Perhaps most notably, it does nothing to address the estimated 2,300 children who have already been separated from their parents. For those minors and their families, there is not much of a clear path forward.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed that her agency, along with the Department of Justice and U.S. Health and Human Services, were planning to reunite families as soon as possible. Again, however, the executive order and any other official document available does not reveal how or when such reunions will take place.

In fact, it looks as if the language in the executive order is so vague, with so few actual commands, that families who have already been separated may still face a long road to reunifying.

Despite rising public backlash, there are few reasons as to why the White House would want to genuinely reverse course on this policy. The President’s 2016 campaign often centered on immigration, with promises of hard-line immigration policies and increased border security. Meanwhile, the business of running shelters for separated migrant children is apparently a billion-dollar business. Defense contractors may indeed be unwilling to let it all melt away thanks to an indecisive executive order.

Kirstjen Nielsen gets more attention

Quick, can you name past Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security? Sure, it’s one of the most recent cabinet positions. The DHS was created in 2002, largely in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Still, DHS Secretaries aren’t exactly big-name federal employees, at least not like the Secretary of State or the Speaker of the House.

Yet, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has suddenly become more visible this past week. That’s thanks to her remarks on federal immigration policy, especially as it applies to family separations at the border. On Monday, she defended the “zero tolerance” policy responsible for the separations.

She falsely claimed that the separations were the result of legal loopholes. “But currently it is the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws that prevent illegal immigrant minors and family members from being detained and removed to their home countries,” she said. “We have repeatedly called on Congress to close the loopholes.” She later remarked that “Congress could fix this tomorrow.”

While it is true that Congress is considering multiple bills with immigration clauses, it is inaccurate to claim that the current immigration issues originated there.

This is all especially strange when you factor in reports that Nielsen was ready to resign only weeks ago when the president criticized her for not supporting White House immigration policies enough.

Perhaps she’s considering that yet again, given the strong public backlash against her remarks. On Tuesday, protestors confronted her at a Mexican restaurant, shouting “shame, shame, shame” until she left.

What is Melania’s deal?

Listen, Melania Trump does not deserve your sympathy. Maybe it’s briefly entertaining to observe the hand-swatting, the miserable faces, and the stilted invocation to “be better.” But she is not a damsel in distress, nor a secret member of some underground organization created to defeat the current presidential administration.

Melania is an unwilling first lady, if we are to believe various reports and a succession of grim-faced public appearances. It certainly seemed that way on a recent trip to a migrant child detention center in Texas on Thursday. It’s not exactly what she said or did there that’s raising people’s ire, however. It’s what she wore.

Specifically, Melania wore a $40 jacket from Zara with the words “I really don’t care do u?” emblazoned on the back. If nothing else, it’s an incredibly tone-deaf thing to wear in the midst of this immigration crisis, while visiting children separated from their families.

Her spokesperson Stephanie Grisham claimed that “there was no hidden message,” while her husband rather unsuccessfully tried to convince everyone that the jacket was an attack on “Fake News Media.” At least she did not actually wear the jacket in question into the detention center.

This is especially confusing, given Melania Trump’s recent comments opposing family separations. And while it’s true that first ladies have too often been reduced that what they wore or assumed to agree totally with their husbands, this particular event is too spectacularly tone deaf to be ignored. We may never learn if this was a deliberate choice, a thoughtless mistake, or if blame should be laid at Melania Trump’s feet or at those of her staff.

U.S. steps back from Human Rights Council

It would already be a bad look for the United States, but the recent U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council comes off especially poorly this week in light of the nation’s immigration troubles. This marks the first time that a previous member of the Council has voluntarily left the human rights body. The U.S. now joins the group of countries that do not participate in the council, including Iran, North Korea, and Eritrea.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that the withdrawal is a result of Human Rights Council criticism of Israel’s relationship with Palestine. “This disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights,” she said on Tuesday.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

Koko, the western lowland gorilla who rose to fame in the 1970s for sign language abilities, has died. That’s not exactly a great way to start a mental palate cleanser, but Koko’s life holds some fascinating but complicated stories about the nature of language and intelligence.

Koko, whose full name was Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “fireworks child”), was born on July 4, 1971, at the San Francisco Zoo. Psychologist and then-doctoral student Francine “Penny” Patterson selected the infant Koko to work on language research. Eventually, Koko learned over 100 signs and adopted a cat called All Ball, upending notions about ape intelligence.

She even learned how to play the recorder in recent years. This showed a level of voluntary breath control that was thought to be difficult, if not impossible, for apes.

Next: United States and North Korea meet in summit

Later evaluations of Patterson’s research complicated the picture: was Koko communicating in an attempt to connect, or to get what she wanted? It’s still unclear. Unfortunately, we can no longer try to ask Koko herself.

Check out memorials to Koko and more information about Patterson’s research at The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Also, take a look at the PBS documentary, Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks.