A San Diego-based federal judge has ordered a halt to the practice of separating children from their parents entering the U.S. without legal permission and for children to be reunited with their parents.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana M. Sabraw ruled Tuesday that all children under 5 years old must be reunited with their parents within 14 days and children over 5 years old be reunited within 30 days.
Sabraw, an appointee of George W. Bush, also ruled that U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement “must immediately take all steps necessary to facilitate regular communication” between parents and children who remain in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody or foster care, or Department of Homeland Security custody.
Within 10 days, ICE “must provide parents telephonic contact with their children if the parent is not already in contact with his or her child,” Sabraw ruled in the nationwide preliminary injunction, appearing to hold a scathing view of the administration’s conduct.
“The facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance — responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making. They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution.”
The ACLU was exultant.
“This ruling is an enormous victory for parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case.
In his ruling Sabraw wrote, “The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings. Money, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, are routinely catalogued, stored, tracked and produced upon a detainees’ release, at all levels — state and federal, citizen and alien.
“Yet, the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with and promptly produce alien children. The unfortunate reality is that under the present system immigrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”
The suit came in response to a May 7 announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions of a “zero tolerance” policy under which all adults entering the U.S. illegally would be subject to criminal prosecution, and if accompanied by a minor child, the child would be separated from the parent.
More than 2,000 migrant children were separated from their parents, sparking international condemnation of the practice.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order last Wednesday to require preservation of the “family unit” by keeping migrant families together during criminal and immigration proceedings to the extent permitted by law, while also maintaining rigorous enforcement of immigration laws.
Attorneys for the government argued in a response to the court filed Tuesday morning that the executive order already addresses the family separation concerns outlined in the ACLU lawsuit, and that federal agencies are working on reunification of the 2,000 or so families that remain apart.
“This Court should give the agencies time to take action, rather than issuing an injunctive order,” the government’s motion states. “A court-imposed process is likely to slow the reunification process and cause confusion and conflicting obligations, rather than speed the process of reunifying families in a safe and efficient manner.”
Justice Department lawyers also argued that a court injunction would unnecessarily restrict the ability of immigration authorities “to carry out its immigration enforcement mission and address smuggling concerns,” and that the government must follow standards that protect children from parents who would pose a risk to the child’s welfare or from smugglers.
Asked Wednesday if his administration would fight Sabraw’s order, Trump said: “Well, we’re going to see. We believe the families should be together also, so there’s not a lot to fight.”
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