Washington, June 26 (IANS) A US border security chief has said his agency has temporarily stopped handing over migrant adults who cross the Mexican border with children for prosecution, raising questions about the future of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan on Monday said his agency and the Justice Department should agree on a policy “where adults who bring their kids across the border — who violate our laws and risk their lives — can be prosecuted without an extended separation from their children”.
McAleenan said the zero tolerance policy was still in effect, but immigrant parents can’t be criminally prosecuted in the meantime because Trump halted the separation of families. He said that the prosecution referrals were suspended last week, the US media reported.
The agency would continue to refer single adults for prosecution for illegally crossing the border, said the CBP chief, adding that border agents would also separate children from adults if the child was in danger or if the adult had a criminal record.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that while there had been no official change in the zero-tolerance policy, the reality was that the government does not have the ability to detain all of the families crossing the border illegally, the New York Times reported.
“We’re not changing the policy,” Sanders said. “We’re simply out of resources.” She blamed Democrats in Congress for not changing immigration laws in ways that would keep migrant families out of the country in the first place.
“We’re working with Congress, hopefully, to provide more resources and the ability to actually enforce the law,” she said.
At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to contradict McAleenan and Sanders, vowing to continue enforcing Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
Sessions said that refusing to prosecute adults crossing illegally into the US would be a disservice to the children they bring with them.
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 were struggling to reunite children with their parents, some of whom were already deported.
McAleenan said that 538 children in Border Protection’s custody who were separated since May have been reunited with their parents.