DOJ Nixes 'Zero Tolerance' Immigration 01/27 06:05
The Justice Department rescinded a Trump-era memo that established a "zero
tolerance" enforcement policy for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border
illegally, which resulted in thousands of family separations.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department rescinded a Trump-era memo that
established a "zero tolerance" enforcement policy for migrants crossing the
U.S.-Mexico border illegally, which resulted in thousands of family separations.
Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued the new memo to federal
prosecutors across the nation on Tuesday, saying the department would return to
its longstanding previous policy and instructing prosecutors to act on the
merits of individual cases.
"Consistent with this longstanding principle of making individualized
assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding --- effective immediately ---
the policy directive," Wilkinson wrote.
Wilkinson said the department's principles have "long emphasized that
decisions about bringing criminal charges should involve not only a
determination that a federal offense has been committed and that the admissible
evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction, but
should also take into account other individualized factors, including personal
circumstances and criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, and the
probable sentence or other consequences that would result from a conviction."
The "zero tolerance" policy meant that any adult caught crossing the border
illegally would be prosecuted for illegal entry. Because children cannot be
jailed with their family members, families were separated and children were
taken into custody by Health and Human Services, which manages unaccompanied
children at the border.
While the rescinding of "zero tolerance" is in part symbolic, it undoes the
Trump administration's massively unpopular policy responsible for the
separation of more than 5,500 children from their parents at the U.S-Mexico
border. Most families have not been prosecuted under zero tolerance since 2018,
when the separations were halted, though separations have continued on a
smaller scale. Practically, the ending of the policy will affect mostly single
men who have entered the country illegally. Prosecutions had dropped sharply
after the Trump administration declared a pandemic-related health emergency
that allows them to immediately expel Mexicans and many Central Americans
without applying immigration laws.
"While policies may change, our mission always remains the same: to seek
justice under the law," Wilkinson wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The
President Joe Biden has issued an executive order to undo some of Trump's
restrictive policies, but the previous administration has so altered the
immigration landscape that it will take quite a while to untangle all the major
changes. Some of the parents separated from their children were deported.
Advocates for the families have called on Biden to allow those families to
reunite in the United States.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, along with Trump and other top leaders
in his administration, were bent on curbing immigration. The "zero tolerance"
policy was one of several increasingly restrictive policies aimed at
discouraging migrants from coming to the Southern border. Trump's
administration also vastly reduced the number of refugees allowed into the U.S.
and all but halted asylum at the border, through a combination of executive
orders and regulation changes.
The policy was a disaster; there was no system created to reunite children
with their families. A report from the Justice Department's inspector general,
released earlier this month, found that the policy led to a $227 million
funding shortfall. Children suffered lasting emotional damage from the
separations, and the policy was criticized as grossly inhumane by world leaders.
The policy began April 6, 2018, under an executive order that was issued
without warning to other federal agencies that would have to manage the policy,
including the U.S. Marshals Service and Health and Human Services. It was
halted June 20, 2018. A federal judge ordered the families to be reunited.
The watchdog report also found that Sessions and other top officials knew
the children would be separated under the policy and encouraged it. Justice
officials ignored concerns from staff about the rollout and did not bother to
set up a system to track families in order to reunite them. Some children are