“We’re not prosecuting those parents,” McAleenan said. He cited as the reason President Donald Trump’s executive order last week requiring parents to be detained with their children, after an earlier policy of separating parents and children prompted a national uproar.
McAleenan said the suspension was temporary, but he didn’t say when prosecutions would resume.
Several DHS officials have said privately that the president’s order made it impossible to continue zero tolerance, but McAleenan was the first to say so publicly.
…But the Justice Department can’t prosecute parents who cross the southern border with children if Border Patrol doesn’t refer them for prosecution.
Border Patrol’s suspension of those referrals reinstates what Trump has publicly criticized as a “catch and release“ policy for migrant families.
Trump’s executive order barring the separation of parents and children rendered the zero-tolerance policy unenforceable almost immediately because there wasn’t sufficient detention space to house the thousands of family members who arrive at the border each month.
…The decision to suspend zero tolerance may ease a growing housing crunch for unaccompanied minors.
Under the policy, adults were referred for federal prosecution under illegal entry and re-entry statutes. Children traveling with them were then placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The separated children flooded the shelter system, which held nearly 12,000 children last week.
To create additional shelter capacity, the administration opened a “tent city” earlier this month near a port of entry in Tornillo, Texas.
But the contract for that facility will end July 13, an HHS spokesperson told a local ABC affiliate. The federal government has not made a decision on whether to extend the contract, according to an ACF spokesman.