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People lining up to cross into the United States to begin the process of applying for asylum near the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Gregory Bull/ AP News
People lining up to cross into the United States to begin the process of applying for asylum near the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Gregory Bull/ AP News

DOJ eliminates its “zero-tolerance” policy regarding migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border

There are still 611 children who haven’t found their parents as a result of the Trump era policy.

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On Tuesday, Jan. 26, the Department of Justice revoked the Trump-era memo that enforced a “zero tolerance” policy to prosecute any migrants caught crossing the U.S-Mexico border illegally.

Under the policy, which went into effect from April to June 2018, all adults, including those traveling with children, were referred for prosecution. 

Because children cannot be jailed with their family members, more than 5,000 children were separated from their parents and put under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

There was no set protocol to ensure that these children reunite with their parents, some of whom were expelled back to their country of origin. To date, pro-bono attorneys are still unable to locate the parents of 611 children and they estimate that 392 of these parents have already been deported. 

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions knew early on that implementing the zero tolerance law would lead to the separation of families, according to a report from the Justice Department inspector general released on Thursday Jan. 14. 

The report stated that Sessions told U.S attorneys that “we need to take away children.” 

The repeal of the policy is one step of many that President Joe Biden plans to take to undo Trump’s noxious immigration policies. Immigrant advocacy groups, who have been clambering for years to identify and reunite families, met with the President’s transition team to discuss these dire issues.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s newly appointed head of the Department of Homeland Security, also met with immigration leaders and spoke virtually at an American Business Immigration summit last month. 

Citing the zero tolerance policy, he said that these communities deserve better than this treatment. “There is no more powerful and heartbreaking example of that inhumanity than the separation of children from their parents,” he stated. 

What does this change?

Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a new memo sent out to federal prosecutors across the nation, saying that the DOJ will return to its long-standing policy and that prosecutors should act on the merits of individual cases. 

“Consistent with this long-standing principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding — effective immediately — the policy directive,” Wilkinson wrote.

Wilkinson also explained that in the process of deciding whether criminal charges should be brought against a person, personal circumstances, criminal history and the seriousness of the offense should be taken into consideration. 

American Civil Liberties Union Lawyer Lee Gelernt, believes this action is a good start but in order for real change to occur, Congress needs to repeal penalties for unauthorized entries that resulted in family separation. 

“The end of the zero tolerance policy does not impact already separated families. The Biden administration should reunite the separated families in the United States and provide them citizenship, resources, care, and a commitment that family separation will never happen again.”

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