MCALLEN, Texas – The Trump administration called it the “zero tolerance” policy, but for many everyday Americans and politicians from every political persuasion, the policy also shows zero compassion.
Tens of thousands of families are caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally every year. Whether they are deported or allowed to stay, parents and children usually stick together.
But under the zero tolerance policy, Border Patrol agents will enforce the letter of the law. Every adult will be prosecuted and jailed. Because adults cannot be jailed with children under U.S. law, families will be separated.
“We’re working toward 100 percent prosecutions,” Rio Grande Sector Chief Manuel Padilla said.
When KPRC rode along with Border Patrol in April, the new policy had just been announced. Agents and leadership seemed eager to enforce it.
“We really don’t want anybody to get a free pass,” Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz said at the time. “What we’re really trying to do is affect change here in the border area.”
Many of the tens of thousands of families caught crossing the border into Texas illegally every year are caught on purpose. They turn themselves in and ask for asylum, or some other exception under the law.
Undocumented mothers, fathers and children who spoke to KPRC in April said they expected to be allowed to stay together in Houston or some other city while awaiting their asylum request.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the first Republican to introduce legislation to keep families together by increasing the number of immigration judges, among other measures.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, from Texas, spoke on the Senate floor Monday about the crisis at the border, promising to reintroduce bipartisan legislation he first introduced in 2014 that he said will allow families to stay together.
“We have to keep family members together and prevent unnecessary hardship, stress and outrage,” Cornyn said. “The good news is we have it within our power to find a better way.”
The processing center in Mcallen, the busiest of its kind in the country, is overflowing with undocumented immigrants nowadays. A new tent city was just erected in Tornillo, outside El Paso, to help.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday that there is a 300 percent increase in fiscal year 2018 of undocumented immigrants posing as families to receive additional benefits.
Border Patrol leadership told KPRC in April that more gang members, including MS-13, were caught trying to cross the border illegally this fiscal year than the previous few years combined.
Many gang members, they said, posed as either unaccompanied minors or as fathers of children who were not theirs. These reported cases of fraud involving gang members represent a tiny percentage of overall illegal family crossings.
Secretary Nielson emphasized in a press conference Monday that families seeking asylum should do so at a port of entry, where they will not break any laws and will not be separated.