Two years after Trump's "zero tolerance" policy separated over 600 children from their families, the Justic Department has rescinded the law altogether.
Former President Donald Trump's controversial "zero tolerance" policy led to the separation of 666 children from their families during his only term. The policy was ended in June 2018 due to growing criticism, but the Justice Department recently moved to formally rescind it all together, an official memo written by acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to federal prosecutors ascertains. While the law has been rescinded, lawyers are still unable to reach the families of 611 children, leaving them stranded. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has since called for Congress to repeal penalties for the unauthorized entry that result in family separation, CNN reports.
"Consistent with this longstanding principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding—effective immediately—the policy directive," Attorney General Wilkinson wrote in his memo. "While policies may change, our mission always remains the same: to seek justice under the law." A spokeswoman for the Justice Department added that the zero-tolerance policy was "inconsistent with the Department's longstanding principle that we exercise judgment and make individualized assessments in criminal cases."
She affirmed, "Today's action restores to prosecutors their traditional discretion to make charging decisions based on a careful review of the particular facts and circumstances of individual immigration cases." While the move has been praised, many believe it did not go far enough. ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit, commented, "This action is a good start, but what is really needed is for Congress to repeal penalties for unauthorized entry that result in family separation."
"And the end of the zero-tolerance policy does not impact already separated families," the lawyer continued. "The Biden administration should reunite the separated families in the United States and provide them citizenship, resources, care, and a commitment that family separation will never happen again." President Joe Biden was recently sworn into the White House and can now begin acting on his pledge to undo Trump's policies. As over 600 children still remain separated from their families, his plans to form a task force to reunite them is a welcome move. Biden is set to announce the task force later this week, on Friday.
Ever since the policy came to an end in 2018, several reports from watchdogs have detailed the disarray within agencies when the policy was implemented and the lack of planning involved. Most notably, they have categorically evidenced the trauma that separated children have been forced to endure. Just earlier this month, the inspector general of the Justice Department revealed that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was aware early on that migrant families would be separated when the Trump administration implemented the policy. However, Sessions chose to proceed with the policy anyway. The report stated, "The Department's single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact that prosecution of family unit adults and family separations would have on children traveling with them and the government's ability to later reunite the children with their parents."