The nation’s top border security official said Monday that his agency has temporarily stopped handing over migrant adults who cross the Mexican border with children for prosecution, undercutting claims by other Trump administration officials that “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration is still in place.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not have enough detention space for the surge of families crossing the border, so many families will be quickly released, with a promise to return for a court hearing. The agency will continue to refer single adults for prosecution for illegally crossing the border and border agents would also separate children from adults if the child is in danger or if the adult has a criminal record.
This temporarily revives a “catch and release” approach used during the Obama administration.“We’re not changing the policy,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We’re simply out of resources.”
At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to continue enforcing Mr. Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. “The president has made this clear: We are going to prosecute those adults who came here illegally,” Mr. Sessions insisted, though he added that the government will “do everything in our power” to comply with the president’s order. Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump have both ratcheted up their hard-line immigration messaging while promising to keep families together.
Administration officials said that it was possible that legal cases against adults arriving at the border with children could resume once facilities to hold the families become available.
More than 2,000 children remain in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Federal officials are struggling to reunite children with their parents, some of whom have already been deported. The administration reports that 538 children in Border Protection’s custody who were separated since May have been reunited with their parents. Those children were never sent to facilities run by the Health and Human Services Department.
Administration officials said the zero-tolerance policy has been enforced in drastically different ways, depending on whether border communities have the resources to detain and prosecute new waves of immigrants. Defense Department officials said Monday that the Pentagon is preparing to build temporary housing for migrants at two military bases but that the details are still being worked out.
For more: NY Times