Officials scramble to make good on Trump’s executive order

FAR WEST TEXAS- Days after President Trump signed an executive order to stop the controversial practice of separating migrant children from their parents, federal officials are scrambling to find ways to execute his order.

The difficulty stems from the fact that Trump’s executive order interferes with his “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all cases of illegal entry, which he pledged to keep. Many criticized Trump’s executive order for failing to adequately address the lack of housing for families awaiting their hearings. Without the necessary infrastructure for keeping family units together, they said, officials would have no choice but to separate them.

“You’re put in an impossible situation because you have a directive to do two things, and you can’t do both of them,” said Chris Carlin, public defender of the Western District of Texas.

That much became clear just a day after Trump signed the executive order, when the U.S. Attorney’s office of the Western District of Texas announced it would dismiss all cases of illegal entry and illegal re-entry until further notice.

The announcement came in the form of a private communication between the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Office of the Public Defender. Maureen Franco, public defender for the Western District of Texas, later circulated the announcement in an e-mail to her office. At the time, attorneys within the Office of the Public Defender speculated that the dismissals, which effectively reversed Trump’s zero tolerance directive, would apply to all future cases until other arrangements had been made. But hours later, and shortly after the announcement made news, the U.S. Attorney’s office retracted its prior dismissal order, according to sources within the Office of the Public Defender.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office then issued the following public statement: “Following the President’s executive order, we are moving quickly to keep families together as we process the criminal charges for those who crossed illegally. The zero tolerance policy is still in effect but there is a necessary transition that will need to occur now that those charged are no longer being transferred to the custody of US Marshals and are staying together with their children in the custody of our partners at DHS. As part of that transition, the office today dismissed certain cases that were pending when the President issued the order. Contrary to reporting, the office did not issue any memorandum to the courts.”

Still, the cases that had been dismissed as of that morning, would remain that way. Assistant public defender Shane O’Neal had been preparing to go to trial in Pecos on June 28, where he was set to represent two women from Central America who had been separated from their children after being apprehended in Presidio. However, following the U.S. Attorney’s announcement, all charges were dropped.

Since last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has made its own effort to navigate the complicated situation. At a media roundtable held in McAllen, Texas on Monday, Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, announced he would temporarily stop the prosecution of migrant adults who cross the border illegally with children. “ In accordance with the Executive Order, I [CBP] ordered the temporary suspension of referrals for prosecutions for those who don’t have a criminal history, or child safety or welfare issues, medical need, while we work through a process with DOJ to maintain family unity while enforcing prosecution efforts,” McAleenan stated. He added, “The Executive Order supports Zero Tolerance, though family unity must be maintained, and child safety and welfare is paramount.”

As for the attorneys fighting within the Office of the Public Defender, they said they would keep a close eye on prosecutorial activity to make sure that families aren’t being separated. “ We’ll be watching in the days to come,” Carlin said.