President Trump’s order to halt family separations unleashed confusion in Washington, D.C., and at the Mexico border Thursday, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it would stop referring such cases for prosecution and migrant parents arrived at courthouses in Texas and Arizona wearing handcuffs only to be led away without facing charges, the Washington Post reports. After a senior Customs and Border Protection official said the agency would freeze criminal referrals for migrant parents who cross illegally with children, Justice Department officials insisted that their “zero tolerance” policy remained in force and that U.S. Attorneys would continue to prosecute those entering the U.S. unlawfully.
On Capitol Hill, a hard-line immigration bill failed to pass and a key vote on a more moderate version of the legislation was postponed. The Pentagon agreed to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases in coming months. Despite the ongoing outcry over the separation of more than 2,300 migrant children from their parents since May 5, Trump administration officials gave no assurances that the families would be swiftly reunited. Administration officials met Thursday evening to grapple with the conflicting understandings of what the executive order was meant to do. The president indicated his main goal was to lessen the public controversy surrounding separated families. Within the administration, the two main agencies tasked with following the order interpreted it very differently. The Justice Department filed court papers seeking permission from a judge to detain families together; Customs and Border Protection officials initially decided the order meant adults apprehended with children should be released.