DOJ Denies WaPo Report That Admin Ended ‘Zero Tolerance’ Prosecutions

on March 13, 2017 in Rio Grande City, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images North America

The Department of Justice disputed a Thursday Washington Post story that the Trump administration has suspended its “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for parents apprehended at the border with children.

“The Washington Post never reached out to the Department,” DOJ spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said. “Their story is not accurate. There has been no change to the Department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally”

The Post reported, citing one unnamed senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, that Border Patrol agents had been “to stop sending parents with children to federal courthouses for prosecution,” in the paper’s words.

“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.

There’s some wiggle room between the DOJ statement and the anonymous official’s claim: Government prosecutors could still be following a “zero tolerance” policy for individual cases referred to them, but it could be the case that border agents, whose agencies fall under the Department of Homeland Security, have been ordered not to refer certain cases to prosecutors.

Trump’s executive order Wednesday asserted that parents would continue facing criminal charges, but also that their kids would be kept with them during their criminal, and then civil, proceedings.

But the unnamed CBP official appeared to tell the Post that wasn’t viable.

The paper reported: “The decision to cease prosecutions of parents with children was made by the Department of Homeland Security for logistical purposes because the official said it would not be ‘feasible’ to bring children to federal courtrooms while their parents go before a judge.”

Spokespeople for the DOJ did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

CBP told TPM in a statement, without immediately responding to follow-up questions:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has taken immediate steps to implement the President’s Executive Order Affording Congress the Opportunity to Address Family Separation.  Family unity will be maintained for families apprehended crossing the border illegally, and they will be transferred together to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The Border Patrol will continue to refer for prosecution adults who cross the border illegally. For those children still in Border Patrol custody, we are reuniting them with parents or legal guardians returned to Border Patrol custody following prosecution.  As specified in the order, families will not be detained together when doing so would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.  Additionally, as was the case prior to implementation of the zero tolerance policy on May 5, family units may be separated due to humanitarian, health and safety, or criminal history in addition to illegally crossing the border.

This post has been updated. 

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