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DOJ announces "zero tolerance" policy on Southwest border

  1. Date Announced

    April 6, 2018

    Attorney General Sessions issues a memo establishing a new "zero tolerance policy" for illegal entry along the Southwest border. Under the policy, US Attorneys Offices will prosecute all offenses under section 1325(a) referred to DOJ by DHS. [ID #324]

    See Biden administration action below.

    View Policy Document
  2. Effective Date of Change

    April 6, 2018
  3. Subsequent Action

    June 15, 2018

    Zero-tolerance continues to lead to significant prosecutions of individuals crossing the border.

    DHS Fact Sheet: Zero Tolerance Immigration Prosecutions - Families
  4. Subsequent Action

    June 18, 2018

    In recent days, we have seen reporters, Members of Congress, and other groups mislead the public on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) zero-tolerance policy. Federal law enforcement officers have sworn duties to enforce the laws that Congress passes. Repeating intentionally untrue and unsubstantiated statements about DHS agents, officers, and procedures is irresponsible and deeply disrespectful to the men and women who risk their lives every day to secure our border and enforce our laws.

    DHS "Myths vs. Facts"
  5. Subsequent Action

    March 28, 2019

    On March 28, 2019, the Trump administration announced a decision to curtail a key component of its "zero tolerance" immigration policy. Along a busy stretch of West Texas, ICE and CBP will no longer charge first-time illegal border crossers with a crime. The change does not affect any other enforcement area.

    Trump Administration Curtailment of Zero Tolerance
  6. Subsequent Action

    June 2, 2021

    Data from the June 2, 2021, Initial Progress Report from the Biden administration's Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families shows that the Trump administration's CBP used family separation and zero tolerance policies earlier than previously believed, specifically in Yuma, Arizona.

    2021.06.02 Initial Progress Report: Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families
  7. Biden Administration Action

    January 26, 2021

    This Biden administration policy revokes the Trump-era policy identified in this entry.

    On Jan. 26, 2021, Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo rescinding the zero tolerance policy.

    2021.01.26 Rescinding the Zero-Tolerance Policy for Offenses Under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)


CNBC: Tougher enforcement policy will separate more families

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New York Times: Trump Administration ramps up 'zero tolerance' policy

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New York Times: 'Zero Tolerance' surprised federal agencies

The Department of Homeland Security, which apprehends border crossers, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for separated migrant children, were both caught off guard when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border illegally, the [GAO] report said. Report at

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The Trump administration used an early, unreported program to separate migrant families along a remote stretch of the border

As reported by the Washington Post: "In May 2017, Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz., began implementing a program known as the Criminal Consequence Initiative, which allowed for the prosecution of first-time border crossers, including parents who entered the United States with their children and were separated from them.

From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, 234 families were separated in Yuma, according to newly released data from the Department of Homeland Security, almost exactly the same number as were separated in a now well known pilot program in El Paso that year. Because the Yuma program began in May, and the existing data on family separations begins only in July, the number of separations there was likely higher than 234, a prospect the Biden administration is now investigating."

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