US border officials have halted 'zero tolerance' policy and will stop prosecuting migrant families for now

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesGuatemalan father and his daughter arrives with dozens of other women, men and their children at a bus station following release from Customs and Border Protection on June 23, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.
  • US border authorities have stopped referring migrant parents for prosecution.
  • The top US border enforcement official said the change occurred after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the separation of migrant children from their families.
  • In order to keep families together, Customs and Border Protection won’t refer families for prosecution.
  • They will instead be the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which has limited family detention centres, and could see the return of a “catch and release” policy.

The top US border enforcement official has confirmed that authorities are not pursuing the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for parents who cross the border with their children.

Speaking to media, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said he ordered his agency to stop referring cases of parents arriving with children to prosecutors last week after President Donald Trump ordered migrant families not be separated.

“We’re not prosecuting those parents because of guidance in the [executive order] to maintain family unity,” McAleenan said.

But Trump’s executive order maintained the “zero tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes adults who cross the border illegally. As a result, McAleenan has said the government needs to figure out how to prosecute parents without separating them from their children.

“I’m saying a better system would allow us to keep families together. So we need to overcome court rulings and the current status of the law that don’t allow us to do that effectively,” McAleenan told ABC when asked about the separation of families.

Individuals who aren’t referred for prosecution are instead processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But ICE only has three family detention centres which could quickly fill up, meaning a potential to return to the former “catch and release” policy.

And in another sign of a loosening of the “zero tolerance” policy, last week the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas said in an email that the US attorney’s office would dismiss cases where migrant parents arrived illegally with children.

“Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them,” Maureen Scott Franco wrote in an email seen by Associated Press.

Trump signed his executive order last Wednesday after the “zero tolerance” policy led to the separation of 2,300 migrant children from their parents, most of whom have yet to be reunited.

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