Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said he ordered border agents to stop referring parents who attempt to cross the Mexico border with children for prosecution, while Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday, the Department of Defense will build tent camps, like the one pictured above, at two U.S. military bases in Texas to house people who attempt to cross the border illegally. Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA
June 25 (UPI) -- The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday the agency has temporarily stopped referring adults who cross the Mexican border with children to prosecutors.
Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said he ordered border agents not to refer families to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution until the two agencies can reach an agreement on a policy that allows parents to be prosecuted without being separated from their children.
As a result of the decision families will be released and ordered to return later for a court date because Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacks necessary detention space for families.
Both McAleenan and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the decision didn't indicate a change in the "zero tolerance" immigration policy enacted by President Donald Trump's administration.
"We're not changing the policy. We're simply out of resources," Sanders said.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday the Department of Defense will build tent camps at two U.S. military bases in Texas to house people who attempt to cross the border illegally.
The Air Force said Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo will be one of the bases where the temporary camps will be held while Mattis said the other will site will be at Fort Bliss, an Army post outside El Paso, the San-Antonio Express News reported.
The Pentagon considered four bases, including Dyess AFB in Abilene and Little Rock AFB in Arkansas, capable of holding up to 20,000 unaccompanied minors after it was ordered to arrange camps capable of holding migrant children for months or possibly years.
Fort Bliss will be used to hold migrant families taken into custody while attempting to cross the border while unaccompanied migrant children will be housed at Goodfellow, NPR reported.
"This is something that we can do," Mattis said. "Again, whether it be refugee boat people from Vietnam, people who've been knocked out of their homes by a hurricane -- absolutely, it's appropriate the military provide logistic support however it's needed."
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring entire immigrant families would be detained together by the Department of Homeland Security pending legal and court proceedings for the parents and children would only be separated from their parents if their safety is at risk, after facing backlash against the policy.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Saturday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has dedicated the Port Isabel Service Processing Center near Brownsville, Texas, "as the primary family reunification and removal center for adults in their custody."
The Department of Health and Human services said more than 2,000 minors were being cared for in HHS-run facilities and as of mid-last week 522 children have been reunited, while 16 were delayed due to weather problems.
ICE also implemented an identification mechanism for ongoing tracking of linked family members throughout the detention and removal process.