TORNILLO, Texas — The incident commander for a Texas tent city built to house children whose undocumented parents have been arrested at the border says the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy is "incredibly dumb, stupid."
The comments came as confusion deepened over the status of the policy: A top immigration official said prosecution of parents has been temporarily halted but also claimed that zero tolerance remained in effect.
The commander, who operates the facility through the BCFS non-profit, said he expects the tent city will shut down at the end of its 30-day contract July 13 because few undocumented adults with children are now being arrested. The air-conditioned tents house more than 300 boys and a handful of girls.
The commander, who like other workers on a media tour of the tent city asked not to be named, said he was frustrated by the intense scrutiny resulting from outrage over family separations at the border.
Mark Weber, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, shrugged off the commander’s comments on family separations.
"Everyone is allowed to have their opinions," he said. "We also have educated opinions, and we welcome people in this country to express their opinion.”
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President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to stop family separations at the border. The result has been nationwide confusion as lawyers and law enforcement officials struggle to comply with the zero tolerance policy that calls for arrests. Courts have ruled that the children cannot be jailed for extended periods, thus the kids are being cared for in tent cities or in other youth facilities across the nation.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Monday that Trump’s executive order set in motion a temporary halt to prosecution of parents and guardians unless they had criminal history or the child’s welfare was in question. Still, he insisted the White House’s zero tolerance policy toward illegal entry remained intact.
“We can work on a plan where adults who bring kids across, who violate our laws, who risk their lives at the border could be prosecuted without an extended separation from their children,” McAleenan said. “We’re looking at how to implement that now.”
Trump has said he wants undocumented immigrants and their children simply sent home without asylum hearings. Opponents say such a policy would be unconstitutional and harsh, since many of the immigrants are fleeing violence and persecution in their native countries.
"Congress would need to legislate what Trump says he wants, and this seems unlikely," legal scholar Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told USA TODAY. "Even were Congress to pass legislation, federal courts would probably find that it violates the Constitution."
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: The Associated Press