- Confusion broke out Thursday after a Washington Post report mentioned a change in US Border Patrol policy for migrant parents caught illegally crossing the border with their children.
- The Justice Department disputed the report, saying President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was still in effect, and The Post issued an update in which it said only that the Border Patrol would no longer be referring the parents to the Justice Department for prosecution.
- President Donald Trump said he was directing government agencies to reunite the migrant families who had already been separated under the policy.
Confusion broke out Thursday afternoon over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute migrant families caught crossing the border illegally.
The Washington Post cited a senior Customs and Border Protection official as saying the US Border Patrol would no longer refer migrant parents for prosecution if they brought their children across the border with them.
The Justice Department quickly said, however, that the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy was still in effect and that it would continue seeking the prosecution of all adult migrants who cross the border illegally, including parents. But that task will become more difficult without referrals from the Border Patrol.
An earlier version of The Post’s story – which the newspaper backed away from – had said the Trump administration was suspending prosecutions of the parents altogether.
President Donald Trump also said Thursday that he had directed government agencies to reunite the thousands of children and parents detained before Wednesday’s announcement that family separations would be halted, though he didn’t clarify how that would be done. The children have been sent to shelters and foster families throughout the country while their parents remain detained or, in some cases, already deported.
The Health and Human Services department, which has custody over the children, is still “awaiting further guidance” on how Trump’s executive order will be implemented, a spokesman told Business Insider.
The spokesman added that until them, the department will seek to place the children with “sponsors” who are typically relatives, as is usually done with children who arrive at the border unaccompanied.
The chaos erupted just one day after Trump signed an executive order to stop separating migrant children from their parents, though his administration insisted that all adult migrants who illegally crossed the border would still be prosecuted.
Instead of separating the migrant children from their parents, the order sought instead to detain entire families as the adults’ cases proceeded through the court system. The legality of that is up in the air as the Justice Department pursues its challenge to a legal settlement on how long children can be detained.
In a court filing on Thursday afternoon, the Justice Department requested that a federal judge grant “limited emergency relief” to allow the Department of Homeland Security to detain migrant children in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities while their parents are being prosecuted.
Under a 1997 ruling that is known as the Flores settlement, children can be detained no longer than 20 days.
Detaining migrant families together
NBC News reported Thursday that the government had dropped charges against 17 migrants, each of them parents.
The CBP official who spoke with The Post said a suspension in prosecution referrals was necessary because US Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t have enough space to detain all of the migrant families together, so at least some would most likely be released from custody while awaiting court hearings. The White House hasn’t commented on whether that will happen.
Since criminal prosecution requires that adults be transferred into US Marshal custody, migrant parents’ children detained before Wednesday had been transferred into the custody of the Health and Human Services Department and placed on a separate legal track.
Those family separations caused a worldwide uproar, however, after news outlets published countless stories about devastated and traumatized migrant children – some just months old – being placed in shelters across the US while their parents were detained separately or deported.
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