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Where The Trump Administration's 'Zero Tolerance' Policy Stands Now


The Justice Department maintains that the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy on illegal entry into the U.S. stands. That is confusing because on Monday, the head of Customs and Border Protection said parents crossing into the country with children are not being prosecuted for now.

NPR's Richard Gonzales has been trying to get some clarification on all this, and he joins us now from Brownsville, Texas. Hey there.


KELLY: So give us some clarification. What have you learned?

GONZALES: Well, we just heard from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. His name is Ryan Patrick. And he emphasized that he is talking on behalf of the Justice Department, and he doesn't speak for other government agencies. And here's what he said.


RYAN PATRICK: What I want to make clear is the Department of Justice is still maintaining its zero tolerance policy as far as anyone who is caught crossing the border illegally and referred to our office for prosecution.

GONZALES: So that means that even if Customs and Border Protection stops referring parents with children for prosecution on illegal entry to the U.S., his office, which encompasses Houston and all the Rio Grande Valley - his office will prosecute everyone sent to them, meaning adults with no children. And he added that it's his understanding that until the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services can build the capacity for detaining families together, then Justice will not see any parents with children referred for prosecution.

KELLY: Let me get a little bit more of a picture of just where you are and what the scene is. I mentioned you're in Brownsville, Texas. You're right across the border from Mexico. As you talk to people, what are you hearing? What is the mood like there?

GONZALES: Well, keep in mind we're talking about two cities joined at the hip. And literally thousands of people go back and forth during their daily lives. There's a lot of talk right now about an interview the mayor of Brownsville, Tony Martinez, gave to The New York Times recently. And he says that people trying to cross the border are simply trying to save their own lives and that it really doesn't constitute a crisis for his city.

And I should say having arrived here that seeing is believing. I detect no sense of crisis, no sense of a border being overrun. The city is going about its business with retail chains that we're all familiar with sprouting up everywhere. So while there is a lot of concern for the families and especially for the children who have been separated from their parents, you know, people are also thinking about how this impacts them on other levels.

KELLY: Of course.

GONZALES: A local official, city commissioner Ben Neece, told me that for local residents, the greater problem is that Mexican consumers typically have to wait two hours to cross the border to buy American goods in Brownsville. And he said with respect to federal policy at the border - he says, quote, "Washington makes policies that make them feel good, but we have to pay the price for it."

KELLY: That's an interesting perspective to set against all of the reports we have coming in of chaos and uproar at the border. You're seeing a somewhat different picture there. Let me briefly ask you this. What are you watching for in terms of where this story goes next?

GONZALES: Well, the ACLU is planning a rally in Brownsville on Thursday to protest the administration's immigration policies. And meanwhile, the attorney general for the state of Washington, Bob Ferguson, has filed a suit against the administration - a total of 16 states and the District of Columbia are involved in that - challenging the policy of forced family separations.

KELLY: Right. All right, that's NPR's Richard Gonzales reporting from Brownsville, Texas. Thanks so much.

GONZALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.