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DOJ rescinds 'zero tolerance' border policy behind family separations

DOJ rescinds 'zero tolerance' border policy behind family separations

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday rescinded the Trump administration's “zero tolerance” border policy that led to separations of migrant families who entered the U.S. illegally.

Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson sent a new memo to federal prosecutors on Tuesday instructing them to return to the previous policy of deciding whether to pursue individual cases.

“Consistent with this longstanding principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding — effective immediately — the policy directive,” Wilkinson wrote in the memo obtained by The Hill.

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The Associated Press first reported on the memo.

The rescission of the policy serves as one of the Biden’s administration’s first efforts to undo certain immigration restrictions during the Trump era.

In Tuesday's memo, Wilkinson said the DOJ has “long emphasized” that decisions to prosecute should be based on whether a person violated federal law and what evidence was available to prove a violation.

But he noted that prosecutors “should also take into account other individualized factors, including personal circumstances and criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, and the probable sentence or other consequences that would result from a conviction.”

“While policies may change, our mission always remains the same: to seek justice under the law,” Wilkinson wrote.

A Justice Department spokesperson said the Trump-era policy was “inconsistent with the Department’s longstanding principle that we exercise judgement and make individualized assessments in criminal cases.”

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“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Under the zero tolerance policy, which was in effect from April 2018 to June 2018, all adults who illegally entered the U.S., including those with children, were referred for prosecution. Any children who entered with those adults were separated from them and put into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The widely criticized policy led to the separation of more than 5,500 children from their parents, with no method for reuniting the children with their parents, some of whom were deported.

Pro bono attorneys indicated earlier this month that they still cannot locate the parents of 611 children. They estimate that the parents of 392 children have been deported.

Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Friday creating a task force to reunite the separated families, along with other immigration-related orders.

Most families have not been prosecuted under the zero tolerance policy since 2018, before the Trump administration stopped implementing family separations.

A report from the Justice Department’s inspector general earlier this month concluded that then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsManchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' Ocasio-Cortez targets Manchin over Haaland confirmation MORE and other top officials knew the policy would lead to separated families.