Charges dropped against 17 migrants with children in Texas, a potential shift in Trump's 'zero tolerance' policy

Key Points
  • A federal court in McAllen, Texas, decided Thursday morning that seventeen people will not be charged with misdemeanor immigration violations because they have family with them.
  • The ruling appeared to allow the individuals to remain with their children.
  • That represents a major departure from the administration's "zero tolerance" policy of charging all adults who are suspected of crossing the border illegally with a crime.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrive to detain a group of Central American asylum seekers near the U.S. - Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.
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Seventeen parents were dropped from the docket of a federal court in McAllen, Texas on Thursday and will not be charged with immigration violations, representing a potential shift in the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

The 17 individuals all had children, a court employee told CNBC. They were never formally charged with a crime.

Carlos Montezuma García, an attorney in McAllen, told NBC News the 17 people were still "distraught and confused" because their children had been taken away from them.

"Each one of them, we talked to all 17, each one had their child taken away from them," he said.

Under pressure from Democrats, civil society groups, and some members of his own party, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that he said would keep families together.

But the president said that the policy of prosecuting everyone who crossed the border illegally would continue.

A Customs and Border Protection official told The Washington Post Thursday afternoon that the agency would no longer refer migrant parents for criminal prosecution, though a spokesperson for the agency told Reuters later Thursday that was untrue. The Department of Justice said that prosecutions would continue and that there had been "no change to the Department's zero tolerance policy."

According to the CBP official, prosecutions would be suspended until law enforcement "can accelerate resource capability," suggesting the prosecutions may begin again once the government is able to house families together as they move through the court process.

The Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal judge in California to permit an exemption that would allow immigrant children to be detained in federal family detention facilities, according to Reuters. The department also asked for an exemption from some state licensing requirements that apply to the facilities.

Border Patrol and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

The suspension of prosecutions, if it occurs more broadly than Thursday morning's case, would mark a departure from the administration's "zero tolerance" policy of charging all adults who are suspected of crossing the border illegally with a crime. That policy has resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children since it was announced last month.