WASHINGTON -- US President Donald Trump, facing domestic and international backlash, signed an executive order Wednesday to end the administration's controversial practice of separating migrant children from parents crossing the US border illegally.
The move comes as the practice, as a result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy against illegal immigration, has aroused fury and sharp criticism from both home and abroad in recent days.
"We are going to keep families together," Trump said at the White House, adding that he "didn't like the sight or the feeling" of the divided families.
Trump's order, drafted by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, directs her department to keep families together after they are detained for illegal border-crossing.
But the president said that the "zero tolerance" policy, under which every adult caught crossing the border illegally will be detained and prosecuted, will continue.
Heart-rending images and sounds of wailing children separated from their guardians have led to a firestorm of opposition to the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration.
Pressure also grew Tuesday night after Trump administration officials have reportedly been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at US-Mexico border to at least three "tender age" shelters in the south of the state of Texas.
The president had claimed that the crisis of family separations could not be resolved by an executive order and insisted that previous administrations, Democrats and Congress were to blame for the situation.
Democrats have said that the situation is Trump's fault, and accused him of using the children as leverage to force them to negotiate on immigration and the president's long-promised border wall.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families after illegally crossing the US border in April and May.
Trump announced his intent to sign the order at the White House earlier in the day, but reiterated his hardline stance on immigration and border security.
"We're keeping families together but we have to keep our borders strong," Trump said. "We still 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 and that we don't want."
The president also said he will "be doing something that's somewhat preemptive but ultimately will be matched by legislation," as lawmakers are struggling to find common ground on legislative solutions to family separations.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that the chamber will vote on immigration legislation on Thursday that would end family separations. (Xinhua)