Agents feared penalty for Don policy separating kids
U.S. Border Patrol officials privately worried they could face jail time for their roles in President Trump’s since-scrapped policy to separate migrant children from their parents, according to emails released Thursday amid renewed scrutiny over the family-shattering practice.
The emails were included in a House Judiciary Committee report summarizing its 21-month probe into the Trump administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy, which required Border Patrol agents to split up thousands of mostly Central American families who illegally crossed into the U.S. from Mexico in 2017 and 2018.
In one email dated June 4, 2018, a Border Patrol supervisor in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley wrote to a subordinate that a local federal judge had been “very upset” in a court hearing and ordered the agency to “keep constant track of the children once they are separated from their parents and when and where they are reunified.”
“This is going to be a huge headache, I might be spending some time in the slammer,” the supervisor wrote followed by a sad-face emoji.
The subordinate, a Border Patrol enforcement agent, responded: “I ain’t going to jail!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The names of the Border Patrol officials were blacked out in the committee report.
Border Patrol spokespeople did not return requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
The House Judiciary Committee report — which also reveals that the administration began formulating the zero-tolerance policy “within weeks” of the president’s 2017 inauguration, far earlier than previously known — came on the heels of the government admitting in court papers last week that it still hasn’t located the parents of 545 separated migrant children.
Many of those children remain in shelters or foster homes under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, while their parents have since long been deported to their home countries.
With Election Day looming, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has seized on the latest zero-tolerance revelations.
In an ad released this week, Biden’s campaign pledged he would as president immediately issue an executive order “creating a federal task force to reunite these children with their parents.”
Trump, in his final debate with Biden earlier this month, insisted that the issue’s overblown because the separated kids are “so well taken care of” and “in facilities that are so clean.”
The zero-tolerance issue remains one of the most controversial policy debacles of Trump’s presidency.
The policy — which was officially in effect between April and June 2018, but had been practiced by the administration since at least March 2017 — ordered federal prosecutors to treat all illegal border crossings as criminal violations, as opposed to civil misdemeanors.
As a result, adults who entered the U.S. illegally were put into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending deportation. Any accompanying children would be separated and put under the supervision of HHS.
Previous administrations had treated illegal border crossings as a civil issue, allowing families to remain together in custody while awaiting deportation.
Amid enormous backlash, Trump signed an executive order in late June 2018 rescinding zero tolerance, allowing migrant families to remain together in custody. At that point, though, more than 2,700 children had already been ripped from their relatives.
A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents near Mission, Texas around the time that the Trump administration’s zerotolerance policy was in effect.