So much has happened over the last month with the president’s new Zero Tolerance immigration policy of separating children from their families at the border that it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a refresher of what’s happened and what’s currently happening under this policy, and what the ELCA and advocacy partners are doing in response.
The policy: The Department of Justice announced in April that every adult who enters the country without immigration authorization would be criminally prosecuted, regardless of the circumstances. This includes refugees fleeing their home countries due to violence or other reasons, even though refugees are required under US law to present themselves at a point of entry—in other words, people entering the United States to claim asylum are not breaking the law. Under the previous policy, people caught crossing the border or those claiming asylum would be held in immigrant detention pending the outcome of their immigration proceeding. Under the new policy, they are instead referred to criminal prosecution to determine whether they will serve prison time for crossing the border. Federal law classifies crossing the border without approval by an immigration official as a misdemeanor, not a felony; it is the criminal equivalent to trespassing on national forest land.