The stunning move came a day after President Trump signed an executive order ending his widely condemned practice of separating families nabbed at the Mexico border, and was first reported by The Washington Post.
Trump’s order said the government would maintain a “zero tolerance” policy toward those who break the law, but a senior US official told the paper that Border Patrol agents have been instructed to stop sending parents with children to federal courthouses for prosecution.
“We’re suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody,” the official said. Trump said Thursday he was directing federal agencies to come up with a way to reunite separated immigrant children with their parents.
He made the comment during a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House, asking the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to devise a plan. Trump a day earlier signed an executive order requiring immigrant families be detained together when they are caught entering the country illegally for as long as their criminal proceedings take.
While that may end a policy that drew a rebuke from Pope Francis and everyone else from human rights advocates to business leaders, it may also mean immigrant children remain in custody indefinitely.
The Trump administration still faces legal challenges because of a court order that put a 20-day cap on how long immigration authorities may detain minors, and trigger fresh criticism of Trump’s hard line immigration policies, which were central to his 2016 election campaign and now his presidency.
Administration officials were unable to clarify whether family separations would end immediately or when and how families now separated would be reunited.
“It is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter,” Brian Marriott, a spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families. “Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of” unaccompanied children and “the administration is working towards that” for those in custody.
Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump — the self-proclaimed advocate for women and children who was slammed for her silence until after her father signed the executive order — wrote on Twitter that the families needed to be reunited. “Now that an EO has been signed ending family separation at the border, it is time to focus on swiftly and safely reuniting the families that have been separated,” she tweeted.