In a dramatic about face, the Trump administration will at least temporarily stop prosecuting migrant parents who cross the border illegally with children, a new report said Thursday.
The 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.
“We’re suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody,” the official told the paper.
But the Justice Department said there was no change in policy, adding more confusion to the rapidly developing story.
“There has been no change to the Department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border,” a Justice spokeswoman told the DC paper.
And Trump — who earlier in the day ordered federal agencies to come up with a plan to reunite families — made no mention of the reported reversal at a cabinet meeting, and continued talking tough about immigration and attacking Democrats.
“My administration is also acting swiftly to address the illegal immigration crisis on the southern border. Loopholes and our extremist open border Democrats,” Trump said.
“That’s what they are, extremist, open border Democrats. You’ll see tapes of unguarded borders. If people penetrate our borders, we must get them out of our country. All of a sudden it’s a big con job,” he said, without elaborating.
The president then offered a rambling take on immigration and his now-reversed policy of separating migrant children from their families.
“They want us to take care of bed space and resources and personnel and take everybody, like let’s run the most luxurious hotel in the world for everybody, but they don’t want to give us the money. So you could ask them about that,” he said, in an apparent reference to Democrats.
“We have to house these minors and we have to house them safely, and frankly, we have to house them and we should be taking good care of them and then we should return them back home. That’s what we have to do. [But] every time we ask for resources, the Democrats say no,” he continued.
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 hardline 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.