The U.S. government wrestled with the fallout Thursday over President Donald Trump’s move to stop separating families at the border, with no clear plan to reunite the more than 2,300 children already taken from their parents and Congress again failing to take action on immigration reform.
In a day of confusion and conflicting reports, the Trump administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases. But it was not immediately clear whether those beds would be for children or for entire families.
Meanwhile, 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 Associated Press.
And 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.
It was unclear whether that meant the Trump administration was dropping its months-old “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all adults caught trying to enter the country illegally.
The president did not answer the question directly but showed no sign of softening.
“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.
Officials from the Defence Department and Health and Human Services said the Pentagon has agreed to provide space on military bases to hold up to 20,000 people detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border.
It was unclear which bases would be used. But Health and Human Services has assessed four as prospective housing for children: Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.
The Justice Department asked a federal judge to change the rules regarding the detention of immigrant children, seeking permission to detain them for longer than the permitted 20 days in an effort to keep them together with their parents.
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.
They called for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.