Charges against 17 people accused of entering the country illegally were dropped Thursday, despite President Donald Trump’s vow a day earlier to continue prosecuting everyone arrested for illegal entry.
There was no official reason given, said attorney Carlos Montezuma García, an attorney in McAllen. But every one of the 17 immigrants is a parent. News of the dropped charges came before the federal magistrate and government attorneys were in the courtroom. A federal public defender who serves as the immigrants’ attorney delivered the news.
“There was not much reaction because the parents are worried,” said Garcia, who described the parents as “distraught and confused,” with a very sad look and tears in their eyes. The parents are focused on finding their children.
“Each one of them, we talked to all 17, each one had their child taken away from them,” García said.
Zenén Jaimes Pérez, a spokesperson with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that while the dropped charges are good news, those individuals still face having to go through the arduous process of trying to track down their children who were taken from them at border processing centers before they go to the court.
“They already had been separated for two to three days,” said Jaimes, who is in McAllen, Texas where the 17 immigrants were to have been prosecuted.
For about a month, the Trump administration has been carrying out a “zero tolerance” policy, trying to prosecute every person who crosses the border outside of official ports of entry, including those requesting asylum and who have their children with them. While it has not yet reached 100 percent prosecution of those charged with illegal entry, McAllen and other parts of the Texas border have seen a spike in prosecutions.
Children were separated from parents or guardians and taken into federal custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, while parents were taken into custody of U.S. Marshals to await prosecution.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump bowed to intense pressure and signed an executive order ending the separation of children from parents at the border. But that order did not include directives on how to reunite parents with their children.
García said the dropped charges amount to prosecutorial discretion.”The government is exercising its discretion and exercised it on parents who had children taken away from them,” he said.
Jaimes said since the prosecutions began, Texas Civil Rights Project has talked to 400 people in McAllen who have been separated from their children. The organization is trying to set all of them up with lawyers to help them find their children, turning to other advocacy organizations that provide legal services and firms that do such work pro bono.
“We are digging deep, very deep,” among allies, he said.
In a surprise visit to the border, first lady Melania Trump also seemed focused on reunification. At a shelter in McAllen where some immigrant children are housed, she asked how she could help the children reunite with their families “as quickly as possible.”