After years and thousands of people affected by Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy — an anti-immigrant move that led any adult attempting to cross the border without documents to face criminal prosecution — President Joe Biden has put an end to a cruel episode in U.S. history.
Though the policy ended in June 2018 during the Trump administration era, on Tuesday, January 26, Biden motioned to rescind the order altogether.
El Paso, Texas, a notorious city populated by immigrants, and known for border crossings, was the center of attention during the zero-tolerance policy era. Unlike other administrations that would release the families from the detention center together, the Trump administration would separate the kids and place them in detention centers, with other family members residing in the US in a best-case scenario or foster homes.
After the policy ended, another 1,100 families were separated on a case-by-case basis by determining that the parents were deemed unfit to have custody of their children. Immigration officials would use old DUI’s or nonviolent offenses from up to ten years ago, entering the country illegally, and, in one particular case, after a parent didn’t change his child’s diaper quickly enough.
In a memo, Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said, “Consistent with this longstanding principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding — effective immediately — the policy directive.” He added that even if the policies change, their mission was to ‘seek justice under the law.’
Between 2017 and 2018, 611 children had been taken away from their parents by US border officials, and attorneys on the case have still not been able to get in contact with their parents.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, said that, although Biden’s decision is a good start, “what is really needed is for Congress to repeal penalties for unauthorized entry that result in family separation.”
More than 5,000 families were separated and deported back to their origin countries during those same years. The Biden administration’s campaign promise was to create a task force that would work on family reunification. This new task force is expected to be announced this week.
Under the zero-tolerance policy and the Trump admin, officials stated they had to prosecute and detain the people crossing the border while putting children into facilities that some people described as concentration camps.
In the same tone, Attorney Gelernt called on the Biden administration to offer legal status to the families affected by this policy and the creation of a victims fund.
“We welcome any help the Biden administration can give us to find the remaining 600 families, but we will be extremely disappointed if the Task Force’s mandate is limited to finding the remaining families and does not provide relief for all the thousands of families that were separated,” he told Vox. “All the families must be immediately reunited in the United States, and then given permanent legal status and restitution for the abuse they suffered under the Trump administration,” Gelernt concluded.