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President Trump is flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen in the Oval Office on Wednesday. (PBS screen shot)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the controversial policy of separating children and parents at the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, amid outcry from activists and business leaders.

The order instructs the Department of Homeland Security not to split up families that enter the country illegally, potentially paving the way for immigration authorities to detain children and parents longer than was previously allowed.

Under the order, DHS will “maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.”

Trump is asking the courts to revisit a lawsuit settlement that requires the federal government to release children from detention without unnecessary delay. Trump’s team says the settlement forces them to separate children and parents but the Obama administration typically released parents with children to comply with the settlement. There are several bills in Congress seeking to modify or overturn the settlement.

Instead of releasing children on their own or with their parents, Trump’s executive order would have families detained together. It instructs the attorney general to prioritize cases involving detained families “to the extent practicable.”

In a company-wide email to employees Tuesday night, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called the separation of families and children at the border “abhorrent” and “simply cruel and abusive.” Separately on Tuesday, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote a post titled, “The country needs to get immigration right.”

Nadella and Smith joined a chorus of voices from the tech industry opposing child separation. Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and others have also spoken out about the policy.

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