The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas on Thursday dismissed nearly all outstanding criminal cases of illegal entry and illegal re-entry involving migrant parents who were apprehended with their children in that jurisdiction, effective immediately. The district includes several major border towns, including El Paso and Del Rio.
Cases will not be dismissed against defendants accused of illegal re-entry and who have a serious criminal history.
The move comes one day after President Trump signed an executive order meant to curtail the controversial practice of separating migrant children from their parents. The dismissals are effectively a reversal of the Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 migrant children from their parents since May.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas publicized the decision in a memo to courts, which was then relayed to TIME. The U.S. Attorney’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Assistant public defender Shane O’Neal, who was set to represent two defendants in child separation cases next week in Pecos, Texas, said the charges against his clients were dropped in accordance with orders from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “From what I understand, they are doing it with all the other child separation cases as well,” he said.
It is unclear whether the dismissal will apply to all future cases of illegal entry and re-entry. Some lawyers speculate the motion will continue forward until other arrangements can be made.
“I’m sure they will continue this until there’s some infrastructure that’s been put in place to house the family unit together,” said Maureen Franco, federal public defender for the Western District of Texas. “I don’t think there are suitable facilities for them to do that now. I would imagine that once those facilities are up and running and staffed that might change.”
Many in the judicial system criticized Trump’s executive order for failing to adequately address the lack of housing for families awaiting their hearings. “I think they have taken the position that until the infrastructure is in place, they are going to turn this over to the immigration courts,” added Franco.