He said he had been swayed by images of children who have been taken from parents while they are jailed and prosecuted for illegal border-crossing.
Senate Republicans, fearing Trump's action will not withstand a legal challenge and eager to go on record opposing the administration's policy, have unveiled their own legislation to keep detained immigrant families together.
In an ironic twist to the anti-immigrant stance of the President and his team, the United States also announced its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council for unrelated reasons, denouncing it as a "cesspool of political bias".
The move comes as the practice, as a result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy against illegal immigration, has aroused outrage and sharp criticism from both home and overseas in recent days, denounced as cruel, inhuman. A senior Justice Department official told The Associated Press that hasn't changed.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday that the president's executive order to stop the separation of families continues to abuse immigrant families by placing them in long-term incarceration.
Video footage of children sitting in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked anger as the images were broadcast worldwide. The Trump administration has pointed to that agreement-called the "Flores settlement" after Flores v. Reno, the case in which it was reached-as the reason it has said it must separate children from their parents. The president said his wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka, who reportedly have been applying pressure on him to drop the policy, "feel strongly" about ending the practice of separating migrant families. Before his U-turn on Wednesday the president had previously said "you can't do it through an executive order", insisting that only Congress could fix the policy by passing immigration reform. Trump said there was a need to remain tough to prevent crime.
"It's very important. I'll be signing something in a little while that's going to do that". "It's about keeping families together", Mr Trump said at the signing ceremony on Wednesday.
The policy and its upshot stirred some of the most hostile reaction yet of any Trump initiative. Instinctively combative and fond of chaos, Trump usually digs in on controversial policies, rather than backing down.
While the establishment media and Democrats have focused primarily on this tiny sample of child border crossers taken from the adults they traveled across the border with, the number of American children who have been separated from their parents is vastly higher. They also raised a series of new questions for the Trump administration, including whether White House policy director Stephen Miller, who helped design the family-separation policy, would be disciplined. The executive order instructs the attorney general to seek federal court permission to modify the consent decree.
Obama calls for end to the ‘cruelty’ of family separations
Lynch in 2016, the court of appeals found that a settlement agreement in a lawsuit required the release of detained children. Obama said in a statement posted on Facebook . "But we do want to keep families together", Trump said in the Oval Office.
As a crisis of migrant children separated from their families provoked national outrage, President Donald Trump said he was powerless to act through an executive order.
Under the current settlement agreement, the government can not hold illegal alien families together past 20 days, meaning a child must not be separated from its parent if the parent remains in custody.
His comments were echoed by rights groups, who continued to raise concerns over the president's immigration policies after the executive order was signed. "This is indefinite family detention which has already been tried and we already know it is awful".
New York City's mayor says he was surprised to learn a children's center in Harlem is caring for 239 migrant children separated from their parents by federal immigration officials. Female suburban voters are considered crucial in deciding control of Congress this fall.
Democrats and Republicans had at least two bills crafted Wednesday to address broader immigration issues, but it was not clear if any had adequate support to pass.
On Capitol Hill, staffers on the White House legislative team were meeting with congressional members to discuss the pending immigration bills when word of an executive order arrived.
In many cases, these adults are the parents of the child border crossers, but in some circumstances, the children are being trafficked and smuggled across the border by illegal aliens looking to be released into the United States.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that compromise legislation under discussion would provide funding to allow the Department of Homeland Security enough resources to house and care for families as they stayed together during the process.