A federal judge ordered immigration authorities to stop the practice of separating children from their parents and gave them 30 days to reunite the thousands of families that have already been separated.
San Diego District Judge Dana Sabraw decided in favor the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who had brought a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a Congolese woman who, after turning herself over to authorities at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and seeking political asylum, was separated from her daughter.
“This ruling is an enormous victory for parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” said Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney handling the case. “Tears will be flowing in detention centers across the country when the families learn they will be reunited.”
As a result of the suit, the woman identified only as “Mrs. L” was able to reunite with her 7-year-old daughter, who had been taken to a children’s shelter in Chicago.
The court’s ruling orders immigration authorities to stop separating families, and to reunite children under 5 within 14 days of the order, and all other children within 30 days. The judge further required the government to provide phone contact between parents and their children within 10 days.
Sabraw, an appointee of George W. Bush, also issued an injunction on future family separations, unless the parent is deemed unfit.
The lawsuit against the U.S. government was heard in court in mid-March, prior to the Administration’s announcement of their “zero-tolerance” policy that led to nearly 2,300 children being separated from their parents.
Amid social pressure and criticism both within the U.S. and abroad, President Trump issued an executive order to revert the practice, although little information was disclosed as to how long it would take to reunite the children with their parents.
The judge stated that the situation that caused thousands of families to be divided in recent months had reached a “crisis level.”
“The news media is saturated with stories of immigrant families being separated at the border. People are protesting. Elected officials are weighing in. Congress is threatening action. Seventeen states have now filed a complaint against the Federal Government challenging the family separation practice,”, said Sabraw.
He was also critical of the Trump Administration’s implementation of this practice. In his opinion, it lacked a system to track the children after being separated from their parents or a means for them to reunite once their legal proceedings came to a close.
The stated reason by the Administration for adopting the policy was to dissuade undocumented crossings across the U.S. southern border, warning that anyone who came with children would be separated from them.
Both parties in the litigation are scheduled back at the San Diego federal court on July 6.