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President Trump Changes Course On Migrant Families At U.S. Border

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump backed down today following a national outcry over his policy of family separations at the southern border. The president signed an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to keep immigrant families together when possible.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Republicans want security and insist on security for our country. And we will have that. At the same time, we have compassion. We want to keep families together. It's very important. I'll be signing something in a little while that's going to do that.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today's executive order is a dramatic change for the president who has vehemently defended his policy over the last several months.

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TRUMP: So we had very, very weak laws. We have the worse laws - you have a thing - catch and release, which we're terminating very quickly. We're doing it in pieces.

KELLY: That was April when his administration announced the so-called zero-tolerance prosecution policy that has resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 immigrant children from their families. That zero-tolerance policy will remain in effect alongside the new executive order.

CORNISH: As criticism grew over the last few weeks, the president stood firm, even as recently as Monday.

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TRUMP: The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility - it won't be. You look at what's happening in Europe, you look at what's happening in other places, we can't allow that to happen to the United States, not on my watch.

CORNISH: But today, before signing the order, Trump summed up his position like this.

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TRUMP: The dilemma is that if you're weak, if you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country's going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma. Perhaps I'd rather be strong but that's a tough dilemma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.