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Trump appears to walk back 'zero tolerance' immigration policy

Eliza Fawcett and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The Trump administration Tuesday appeared to significantly pull back from its "zero tolerance" immigration policy as it rushed to reunite families to satisfy a court order, saying it will largely release families with ankle bracelet monitoring rather than indefinitely detaining the migrant children and parents together.

Administration officials said just 34 of 102 children under the age of 5 were expected to be reunited by Tuesday, the deadline set by a U.S. District Court judge in San Diego. In a joint midmorning filing, attorneys for the ACLU and the Department of Justice said only four families had been reunited so far.

The reunifications were taking place near the shelters where the children were being detained, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which did not give further details. Officials said the reunifications were expected to continue throughout the day.

"Parents with children under the age of 5 are being reunited with their children and then released and enrolled into an alternative detention program, meaning that they will be placed on an ankle bracelet and released into the community," said Matthew Albence, the executive associate director of ICE's enforcement and removal operations.

The abrupt reversal in the administration's detention policy came on the heels of a federal judge in Los Angeles on Monday rejecting the Justice Department's bid to hold the immigrant families in custody indefinitely. U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee denied a request by administration attorneys to modify a long-standing legal settlement outlining strict requirements for how immigrant minors are detained, dealing a blow to federal authorities' plans.

The ankle bracelet "is a tool that we use to encourage compliance" and ensure that parents appear for their hearings, Albence said. Attorneys for the government had previously argued that releasing those who were caught crossing the border illegally while their immigration cases were pending encourages others to attempt to do the same.

Albence said the ankle bracelet would be the method used "in general" but emphasized that authorities would handle each family on a case-by-case basis.

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Of the 102 minors under the age of 5 detained apart from the families, 14 are ineligible for reunification because they had parents with serious criminal histories, were determined to be unrelated to the alleged parent by DNA testing, or in one case, had credible evidence of child abuse, according to Chris Meekins, a senior official for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sixteen other adults had cleared their criminal background checks and were waiting for verification of their parentage, according to officials. Twenty other adults were eligible for reunification but could not be reunified by July 10 due to "legitimate logistical impediments." Twelve of those 20 were removed from the U.S. and eight were released into the U.S. while awaiting further screening.

A Texas-based advocacy group said it had offered to post up to $20 million in bond to speed up the release of children separated from their parents. The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said the sum was donated by over 1 million individuals worldwide and would fund up to 2500 cases, at the usual cost of $5 to $10,000 per case, according to the group.

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