A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the federal government to reunite migrant parents with children taken from them under the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, based in San Diego, issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday night requiring that nearly all children younger than 5 be returned to their parents within 14 days and that older children be returned within 30 days.
Blasting the Trump administration for what he called “a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making,” Sabraw said it was a “startling reality” that no adequate planning had been done before officials embarked on a policy to separate children from parents kept in immigration custody or referred for criminal prosecution. The practice has led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents or other family members.
“The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings,” Sabraw wrote in his 24-page order. “Money, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, are routinely catalogued, stored, tracked and produced upon a detainee’s 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 migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property. Certainly, that cannot satisfy the requirements of due process.”
The injunction was issued over the objections of the Trump administration, which had asked Sabraw to hold off issuing any such mandate while agencies worked to implement the executive order President Donald Trump issued last week purporting to rescind the family separation policy.
The preliminary injunction also blocks deporting parents who have been separated from their children “unless the Class Member affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily declines to be reunited with the child prior to the Class Member’s deportation, or there is a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Tuesday night on the judge’s order.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, argued the case. “This ruling is an enormous victory for parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” he said on Tuesday night. “Tears will be flowing in detention centers across the country when the families learn they will be reunited.”
Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acted in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in February over the alleged separation of an asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo from her 7-year-old child. They were reunited in March, but the ACLU added another plaintiff: a Brazilian woman who was separated from her 14-year-old son while she was prosecuted for crossing the border from Mexico illegally.