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"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated", Trump said after he signed the order reversing one effect of his administration's "zero tolerance" border crossing policy: Children of immigrants arrested at the border were separated from their parents and held in detention facilities, some made of chain-link fencing and resembling cages.

But it's not clear when - or if - at least 2,300 children taken from their parents under the prior policy will be reunited. "It's about keeping families together", Mr Trump said at the signing ceremony on Wednesday. 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.

By virtue of this policy, families who crossed together illegally would in some cases be separated, prompting a sweeping outcry from Democrats and immigration advocates.

What does the executive order say?

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday backed down and abandoned his policy of separating immigrant children from their parents on the US-Mexico border, after images of youngsters in cages sparked outrage at home and overseas.

What court orders is he talking about? But it appeared that the time parents can stay with their children is capped at 20 days.

However, immigrant families who illegally cross the United States southern border will be detained together under an executive order, an administration official said on Wednesday.

So Trump's order is likely to create a fresh set of problems and may well spark a new court fight.

It also directs the Department of Defense to take steps to house detained immigrant families as needed. Finally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directed to prioritize the adjudication of cases involving detained families. Legislation on those issues had been promised for July, but skeptical lawmakers wanted it done sooner.

The House killed a hard-right immigration bill Thursday, and Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package with the party's lawmakers fiercely divided over an issue that has long confounded them.

"We will be going through Congress".

"It is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter", Brian Marriott said.

The conservative measure was defeated 231-193, with 41 Republicans - mostly moderates - joining Democrats in voting against it.

Griffin, a pediatrician who has been caring for children detained on the border between Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua for ten years, told AFP the desperation of separated children.

"Our focus is on continuing to provide quality services and care to the minors in HHS/ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) funded facilities and reunifying minors with a relative or appropriate sponsor as we have done since HHS inherited the program".

"Reunification is always the ultimate goal", he said.

Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, among the largest refugee resettlement agencies in the USA, said: "While children will no longer be ripped from the arms of their parents for the sole objective of deterring immigration, they will go to jail with their parents".

Conspicuously missing from the coverage: Any warnings of the dangers of entering the USA with children - the deterrent that some proponents of the family separation policy had hoped for.

But on Capitol Hill, executive action is not the same as a legislative fix. "His new executive order criminalizes asylum-seekers and seeks to indefinitely detain their children".

In recent weeks, some 2,500 children who crossed the U.S. border illegally along with their parents have been separated from them.

"This executive order in no way deals with reuniting the (asterisk) two thousand three hundred (asterisk) children who have been torn away from their parents and remain separated", she wrote on Twitter.

Virginia's governor ordered state officials to investigate abuse claims by children at an immigration detention facility who said they were beaten while handcuffed, locked up for long periods in solitary confinement and left nude and shivering in concrete cells.

"According to any fair reading of the order, it represents a massive capitulation by the administration", wrote National Review senior writer David French. "This will solve that problem".

Senate Republicans had been preparing to advance legislation that would prohibit the government from splitting up families apprehended after crossing the border.