A US border security chief says he has temporarily stopped launching criminal prosecutions of migrants who illegally enter the country with children.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters in Texas the prosecution referrals were suspended last week.
He said it followed an order last week by President Donald Trump calling for an end to migrant family separations.
But Mr. Trump had suggested the families would instead be detained together.
The Republican president bowed to public pressure last Wednesday, signing his executive order to “keep families together” in migrant detentions.
Mr. McAleenan maintained that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” tactics were still in effect, although the commissioner’s guidance to his agents largely leaves the policy in limbo.
The CBP chief said parents cannot be prosecuted if US officials no longer intend to separate them from their children, who are legally not allowed to be kept in adult detention facilities.
He said his agency and the Department of Justice must figure out how to prosecute the parents without splitting them from their children, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The border official’s decision paves the way for US immigration enforcement to revert largely to the approach under the Obama administration.
It means US border agents who stop undocumented adult migrants accompanied by children will hand them a court summons and allow them to go on their way, rather than hold them in a detention facility.
Mr. Trump repeatedly lamented this “catch and release” policy before his administration began in April criminally prosecuting adult migrants and holding their children separately to deter border crossings.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the reality was that the US did not have the space to hold all the undocumented families coming across the US-Mexico border.
“We’re not changing the policy,” she told reporters. “We’re simply out of resources.”
Mr. Trump earlier said that the US needed “a nice simple system that works”.
“We want a system where, when people come in illegally, they have to go out,” he said.
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