The Slatest

Despite Trump’s Executive Order, the Administration May Still Be Separating Families

A beige big-box-style building with parked cars and a "Private Property" yellow sawhorse in front of it.
A former Walmart being used as a detention facility for boys in Brownsville, Texas. Loren Elliott/AFP/Getty Images

Well, this is a mess.

• On Thursday afternoon, Donald Trump signed an executive order that said the executive branch will continue carrying out its “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting all undocumented adults who cross the border in criminal court—but will to seek to keep adults who arrive with children together with those children in detention while their cases are pending.

• It was unclear when the order was signed how it would work in practice. Earlier this year, the administration said the purpose of the “zero-tolerance” policy was to deter other potential border crossings by guaranteeing that undocumented adults would be separated from their children during prosecution. While there is a system in place for keeping families together during civil deportation proceedings, there has not previously been a system for holding adults in custody with their children while they face criminal charges.


• On Friday morning, reports from McAllen, Texas indicated that the administration had dropped criminal charges against 17 individuals who’d previously been separated from their children after crossing the border. While this presumably means those individuals can now be reunited with their families in civil custody, it contradicted the “zero-tolerance” message in the executive order.

• Subsequently, a “senior Customs and Border Protection official” told the Washington Post that the agency is “suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody.” This seemed to confirm that “zero tolerance” had, in fact, been scrapped, at least temporarily.

• A Department of Justice spokeswoman then said that the Post’s story—which was really just a direct quote from a government official!—was “not accurate” and that “zero tolerance” remained in effect.

• A Guardian correspondent reported that adults who’d been separated from their children were still getting processed into the criminal system in Brownsville, which is 60 miles from McAllen.

No one knows what’s supposed to be happening!