The United States’ top border enforcement official acknowledged Monday that authorities are currently unable to carry out the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of detaining and prosecuting everyone entering the country illegally, as officials work to develop a policy that would allow prosecutions without family separations.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters in Texas he stopped sending cases of parents charged with illegally entering the country to prosecutors after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to stop the separation of migrant parents and children.
McAleenan insisted the administration’s policy remains in effect despite the current challenges, and said he is working on a plan to resume prosecutions.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order maintaining his “zero tolerance” policy of detaining and prosecuting everyone entering the country illegally, but ending the practice of separating immigrant parents and children.
The move has led to logistical questions, including how to keep families together while also prosecuting migrant parents. It has also sent multiple government agencies in search of ways to house the migrants who are detained.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the military would help to house migrants at military bases, including two in Texas.
Mattis told reporters during a trip to Alaska Monday that the military would provide logistics support and would not get into the “political aspect” of the situation. He said the U.S. military has a long history of providing logistical support to people affected by natural disasters or “escaping tyranny.”
Trump used a political rally Monday night in South Carolina to portray himself as tough when it comes to security.
“We’re defending our borders because if you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country,” he said. “Democrats want open borders and they don’t mind crime.”
Earlier in the day, Trump assailed judicial review for illegal border crossers, contending that the migrants entering the country illegally ought to be immediately sent back to their homelands.
“We want a system where when people come in illegally, they have to go,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We want strong borders and we want no crime.”
In a tweet, he wrote “Hiring manythousands (sic) of judges, and going through a long and complicated legal process, is not the way to go – will always be disfunctional (sic),” he said. “People must simply be stopped at the Border and told they cannot come into the U.S. illegally.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued Monday that “it makes no sense that an illegal alien sets one foot on American soil and they would go through a three to five year judicial process to be removed from the country.”
She said there are designated points of entry that asylum seekers can use to apply for asylum.
“Anyone that goes to a point of entry seeking asylum will not be prosecuted. We would encourage people to use the correct system and not break the law,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Sunday that Trump’s call to end hearings for undocumented immigrants who enter the country illegally and seek asylum in the U.S. was unconstitutional.