Confusion at Border on Trump Reversal 06/22 06:10
McALLEN, Texas (AP) -- Immigration enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border was
plunged deeper into chaos over President Donald Trump's reversal of a policy
separating immigrant children from parents, causing uncertainty for both
migrant families and the federal agencies in charge of prosecuting and
A senior Trump administration official said that about 500 of the more than
2,300 children separated from their families at the border have been reunited
since May. It was unclear how many of the children were still being detained
with their families.
Federal agencies were working to set up a centralized reunification process
for the remaining separated children and their families at a detention center
just over the border in Texas, said the official, who was not authorized to
speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
There were also signs that the administration was dialing back its
"zero-tolerance" policy, for now.
The federal public defender's office for the region that covers cases from
El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday the U.S. Attorney's Office would be
dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or
re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.
"Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent
or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them,"
wrote Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western
District of Texas, in an email shown to the AP.
In the Texas border city of McAllen, federal prosecutors unexpectedly did
not pursue charges against 17 immigrants. A federal prosecutor said "there was
no prosecution sought" in light of Trump's executive order ending the practice
of separating families.
But the president showed no sign of softening in public remarks, even as
Congress failed again to pass immigration reform.
Immigrants like Ever Castillo and Diva Funes were among those affected by
the mixed signals from the U.S.
The couple from Comayagua, Honduras, arrived at the border Thursday and
presented themselves for asylum with their five children, ages 1 to 12 years.
Castillo said they did not know about the family separation policy when they
began hitchhiking to the U.S. two weeks ago.
He said Border Patrol agents told them they would be separated if they
entered the U.S., and they opted to walk back across the international bridge
into Reynosa, Mexico. Rather than be separated from his children, "I said,
'better that we head back to my country,'" said Castillo.
A 7-year-old boy and his migrant mother separated a month ago were reunited
Friday after she sued in federal court and the Justice Department agreed to
release the child.
The two were reunited at about 2:30 a.m. at Baltimore-Washington
International Airport in Maryland, hours after a Justice Department lawyer told
a U.S. District Court judge the child would be released.
The mother, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, had filed for political
asylum after crossing the border with her son, Darwin, following a trek from
Guatemala. She said she started crying when the two were reunited and that
she's never going to be away from him again.
Other immigrants who remained locked up and separated from their families
struggled to stay in touch with children who are in many cases hundreds of
A 31-year-old Brazilian man held in Cibola County Correctional Center in
Milan, New Mexico, said he didn't know when he would see his 9-year-old son
The father told the AP in a phone interview Thursday that he spoke to his
son once by phone since they were separated 26 days before. The man, who is
seeking asylum, spoke on condition of anonymity because he said in Brazil he is
sought by a criminal gang for failure to pay an $8,000 debt, and fears
The man said he worried about his son, who only speaks Portuguese. "He
cried. He was so sad," the father said. "I had promised him it would only be
three to five days."
Thursday's uncertainty resulted from the abrupt ending of a White House
policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents over the past
several weeks --- part of the administration's zero-tolerance immigration
policy that was a signature campaign promise of Trump.
After Trump's executive order, a host of unanswered questions remained,
including what will happen to the children already separated from their parents
and where the government will house all the newly detained migrants in an
already overcrowded system.
The administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000
migrants on U.S. military bases, though officials gave differing accounts as to
whether those beds would be for children or for entire families. The Justice
Department also went to court in an attempt to overturn a decades-old
settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time migrant children can be
locked up with their families.
"We have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don't do it, you will
be inundated with people and you really won't have a country," Trump said.
The Trump administration previously had not said whether any of the more
2,300 children separated from their families had been reunited. The senior
Trump administration official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity
said many of the 500 children already reunited were back with their families
within days of being separated. But other parents have said they didn't know
where their children were.
Meanwhile, the mayors of about 20 U.S. cities gathered at a holding facility
for immigrant children in the border city of El Paso. They accused Trump of
failing to address a crisis of his own making and called for the immediate
reunification of immigrant children with their families.
In Washington, the House killed a hard-right immigration bill Thursday and
Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package, with
party members fiercely divided on the issue. Democrats oppose both measures.
The rejected bill would have curbed legal immigration and bolstered border
security but would not have granted a pathway to citizenship to "Dreamers" who
arrived in the country illegally as children.
The delayed vote was on a compromise bill between GOP moderates and
conservatives that would offer Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and provide
$25 billion for Trump's border wall, among other things.
First lady Melania Trump made a surprise visit to a McAllen detention center
housing some of the children. She told the children to "be kind and nice to
She made waves while boarding the flight to McAllen in a green
military-style jacket with the message "I really don't care, do u?" on the back.