The Justice Department on Tuesday rescinded a Trump-era memo that established a "zero tolerance" enforcement policy for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border illegally, which resulted in thousands of family separations. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued the new memo to federal prosecutors across the nation, saying the department would return to its longstanding previous policy and instructing prosecutors to act on the merits of individual cases, the AP reports. "Consistent with this longstanding principle of making individualized assessments in criminal cases, I am rescinding—effective immediately—the policy directive," Wilkinson wrote. The "zero tolerance" policy meant that any adult caught crossing the border illegally would be prosecuted for illegal entry.
Because children cannot be jailed with their family members, families were separated and children were taken into custody by Health and Human Services, which manages unaccompanied children at the border. While the rescinding of "zero tolerance" is in part symbolic, it undoes the Trump administration’s massively unpopular policy responsible for the separation of more than 5,500 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Most families have not been prosecuted under zero tolerance since 2018, though separations have continued on a smaller scale. A report from the Justice Department's inspector general earlier this month found officials ignored concerns from staff about the policy rollout and did not bother to set up a system to track families in order to reunite them. (Some children are still separated.)