Border patrol halts prosecution of families crossing illegally

Suspected immigrants walk towards a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle near the Rio Grande River at the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, U.S. (Bloomberg pic)

WASHINGTON: The nation’s top border enforcement official said Monday that his agency has halted criminal prosecutions of adults who illegally cross the border with children in order to stop separating families.

Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters at a detention center in McAllen, Texas, that he instructed the agency to temporarily stop sending prosecutors the cases of parents charged with illegally entering the country in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order last week ending family separations, according to the Associated Press.

A Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman, Stephanie Malin, said the agency “is taking temporary action until Congress can find a lasting solution to family separation.” She didn’t immediately explain what she meant by temporary action.

McAleenan said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on criminal prosecution of illegal border crossings remains in effect but he was unable to refer parents for prosecution without separating them from their children. He said the agency is working on a plan to resume criminal referrals.

The border patrol commissioner spoke shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions told an audience in Reno, Nevada, that the Justice Department would maintain Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy prosecuting all those who cross illegally.

To do otherwise, Sessions said “ would encourage more adults to bring more children illegally on a dangerous journey that puts these children at great risk.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said McAleenan’s halt to referrals is “a temporary solution” that “isn’t going to last.” She called on Congress to “fix” the immigration system.

“We’re not changing the policy. We’re simply out of resources,” she added