WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives who were briefed by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday about President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration said they do not know if it would prevent family separations during detentions longer than 20 days.
In the briefing that lasted about 10 minutes, Nielsen explained the order Trump had signed an hour earlier to keep immigrant families together as they await immigration proceedings. But it appeared that the time parents can stay with their children is capped at 20 days.
"Basically you can only hold people for 20 days so it keeps the families together for at least that period of time while we hopefully get a legislative fix," said Representative Mark Meadows, chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, after the briefing.
Under a court settlement, the federal government cannot hold the children for more than 20 days. In the past, the government released entire families once the clock ran out.
Now, with the number of families detained rising during Trump's current immigration crackdown, questions were immediately raised about whether children will be released into foster or other care at the end of 20 days if their parents' immigration proceedings have not wrapped up.
The executive order directs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask a federal court for clearance "to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings."
"I don’t think they have figured out what the legal consequences might be of trying to keep the parents together with the children indefinitely," said Representative Carlos Curbelo, a member of Trump's Republican party, after the meeting.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by Eric Beech and Lisa Lambert; editing by Eric Walsh and James Dalgleish)