The Washington Post broke a story Thursday claiming the administration had reversed itself and would abandon “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement for parents who bring their children with them. Hours later, they were forced to correct elements of the story in the face of multiple Justice Department (DOJ) denials.
The Post had claimed that, in a “dramatic about-face,” the “Trump administration will stop prosecuting migrant parents who cross the border illegally with children.”
The Post apparently arrived at this conclusion after “a senior U.S. official” told them, “We’re suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody.”
The claim was fake news. No change in policy will protect illegal aliens who bring their kids from prosecution, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s zero tolerance guidance remains in place, reaffirmed by President Donald Trump’s Wednesday executive order.
The administration’s denials came quickly.
“The Washington Post never reached out to the Department. Their story is not accurate,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Flores said in a statement immediately after the article was posted. “There has been no change to the Department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border.”
U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick from the Southern District of Texas, the chief federal prosecutor where the greatest number of border crossing illegal aliens are tried, confirmed shortly thereafter that his office has not dropped a single case, as the Washington Post was claiming, because the decision had been made not to prosecute illegal aliens apprehended with children. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas (SDTX) did not dismiss any immigration violation cases in McAllen federal court today. Media reports alleging SDTX cases were dropped or dismissed are inaccurate and misleading,” he said.
Realizing their mistake, the Washington Post issued a correction, revealing the source of their error. They had quoted an official from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), an agency that has no decision-making power over prosecutions. The correction read:
An earlier version of this alert incorrectly stated the Trump administration was suspending prosecutions for parents of migrant children. Decisions about whether or not to prosecute are the purview of the Justice Department. The senior Customs and Border Protection official quoted in this article describes only how that agency’s operations would change to no longer refer parents of migrant children to the Justice Department for prosecution.
A later post on Twitter explained the Post’s error more fully:
Decisions about whether or not to prosecute are the purview of the Justice Department.
The Customs and Border Protection official describes only how that agency’s operations would change to no longer refer parents of migrant children for prosecution. https://t.co/fspVy35HiP
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 21, 2018
But neither correction addressed a more fundamental misrepresentation in the original story. The quoted CBP official did not refer to all adults with children but to those coming as family units and indicated this would be the case only “until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody.”
The corrected story admits this is merely “[b]ecause ICE lacks the detention capacity to increase the number of families it holds in detention.” In other words, ICE does not have the facilities needed to hold children and adults together.
The corrected story also neglects to mention the administration’s efforts to correct this deficiency, which provides further evidence against the original — and still uncorrected — claim of an “about face.” The Defense Department has been ordered to help increase the type of housing needed to keep families together while prosecuting illegal alien parents. At the same time, the Justice Department filed a brief in federal court seeking to loosen a 1997 settlement to allow this type of detention to be used long enough to accomplish that dual aim.