Border patrol agents in the United States have temporarily stopped launching criminal proceedings against undocumented immigrants who enter the country with children, Los Angeles Times reported on Monday.
Customs and Border Protection Agency Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, however, did not say when most of the children already taken from their parents over the past few weeks would be reunited with them.
“I directed the temporary suspension of prosecutions for families in that category while we work through a process...where we can maintain family unity while enforcing prosecution efforts,” said McAleenan. He said he hoped to find a way to resume prosecutions more quickly so that families would be separated for less time.
McAleenan said prosecution referrals were suspended last week after President Donald Trump’s order to end migrant family separations, BBC reported. Though McAleenan said that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” tactics were still in effect, the commissioner’s directive to his agents leaves the policy in limbo.
McAleenan said 538 children who had been taken from their families for short periods and kept in the Border Patrol’s custody have been reunited with parents. But the fate of a considerably larger group of children transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services is more uncertain. On Saturday, the department said that as of Wednesday it had 2,053 “separated minors” in its custody. The department and the White House have declined to provide updated figures to the Congress or the public.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy that allows authorities to file criminal charges against undocumented immigrants. The Trump administration faced widespread criticism for it. On June 18, investigative news website ProPublica published an audio recording of immigrant children from Central America crying inconsolably for their parents at a detention centre on the US-Mexico border.