Immigrant children: Federal judge orders families separated at border be reunited within 30 days
Immigrant children: Federal judge orders families separated at border be reunited within 30 daysCLOSE
Edmilson Aguilar Punay, a 15-year-old from Guatemala, says the detention center where he was held was so crowded, some people had to sleep standing.
A federal judge in California has ordered U.S. immigration authorities to reunite separated families on the border within 30 days, describing the Trump administration's handling of the crisis as attempts "to address a chaotic circumstance of the governmentâs own making."
The preliminary injunction from U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego said children younger than 5 must be reunified within 14 days of the order issued Tuesday.
Sabraw, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, also issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations unless the parent is deemed unfit or doesnât want to be with the child. It also requires the government to provide phone contact between parents and their children within 10 days.
Despite the ruling, organizers of a protest rally at the U.S.-Mexico border planned to go ahead with their event on Thursday.
The rally was scheduled to begin at the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, to protest what organizers called "Trumpâs inhumane treatment of immigrants.â
The organizers included the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Rio Grande Equal Voice Network, We Belong Together and Jay Ellis, an activist and actor from HBOâs âInsecure.â
âThe rally is still on, and we are mobilizing people, as this is far from over,â said Ana Blinder, an ACLU representative. âThe crisis engulfing immigrant chi ldren and families is now. â
The federal ruling in San Diego is in response to a lawsuit filed by an anonymous woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was separated from her 17-year-old girl and by a Brazilian mother separated from her 14-year-old. It was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which pursued it as a class action after U.S. authorities began a "zero tolerance" policy in early May toward people crossing the border.
Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney who represented the families in this California case, praised the judge's ruling.CLOSE
A judge in California on Tuesday ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days, setting a hard deadline in a process that has so far yielded uncertainty about when children might again see their parents.
âThis is a complete victory for these parents and children who feared they might never see each other again," Gelernt said. "Tears of joy will be flowing in the detention centers when they hear the news. We hope the administration will now turn its efforts to reuniting these kids.â
The Department of Justice said the court's decision "makes it even more imperative that Congress finally act to give federal law enforcement the ability to simultaneously enforce the law and keep families together. "
"Without this action by Congress, lawlessness at the border will continue, which will only lead to predictable results â" more heroin and fentanyl pushed by Mexican cartels plaguing our communities, a surge in MS-13 gang members and an increase in the number of human trafficking prosecutions,â the department said in a statement.
Under the terms of the zero tolerance policy, children were separated from their parents when the adults were arrested for alleged illegal entry into the U.S.
More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in recent weeks and placed in government-contracted shelters â" hundreds of miles away, in some cases â" under a now-abandoned policy for families caught illegally entering the U.S.
President Donald Trump hastily issued an executive order to stop the separation of families while officials began the reunification process after a national outcry.
Sabraw called the unfolding of events since the zero tolerance policy was put into effect "reactive governance â" responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the governmentâs own making."
"They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of
due process enshrined in our Constitution," Sabraw wrote.
In his 24-page order, the judge also slammed the administration's lack of preparedness in implementing its policy.
âThe government readily keeps track of personal pro perty of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings,â Sabraw wrote. âMoney, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, are routinely catalogued, stored, tracked and produced upon a detaineeâs release, at all levels â" 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.â
Also Tuesday, 17 states, including New York and California, sued the Trump administration to force it to reunite children and parents. The states, all led by Democratic attorneys general, joined Washington, D.C., in filing the lawsuit in federal court in Seattle, arguing that they are being forced to shoulder increased child welfare, education and social serv ices costs.
âThe administrationâs practice of separating families is cruel, plain and simple,â New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. âEvery day, it seems like the administration is issuing new, contradictory policies and relying on new, contradictory justifications. But we canât forget: The lives of real people hang in the balance.â
More: USA TODAY tracking where separated children sent
More: Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' border prosecutions led to time served, $10 fees
More: The Wall: Explore 2,000 miles between U.S., Mexico
In a speech before the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Los Angeles, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the administration for taking a hard-line stand on illegal immigration and said the voters elected Trump to do just that.
âThis is the Trump era,â he said. âWe are enforcing our l aws again. We know whose side we are on â" so does this group â" and weâre on the side of police, and weâre on the side of the public safety of the American people.â
Juan Sanchez, chief executive of the nationâs largest shelters for migrant children, said he fears a lack of urgency by the U.S. government could mean it will take months to reunite families.
Sanchez, with the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the government has no process in place to speed the return of children to their parents.
âIt could take days,â he said. âOr it could take a month, two months, six or even nine. I just donât know.â
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress on Tuesday that his department still has custody of 2,047 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. That is only six fewer children than the number in HHS custody as of last Wednesday.
Democratic senators sa id that wasnât nearly enough progress.
âHHS, Homeland Security and the Justice Department seem to be doing a lot more to add to the bedlam and deflect blame than theyâre doing to tell parents where their kids are,â Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.
Azar refused to be pinned down on how long it will take to reunite families. He said his department does extensive vetting of parents to make sure they are not traffickers masquerading as parents.
Tens of thousands of Central American migrants traveling with children â" as well as children traveling alone â" are caught on the Mexican border each year. Many are fleeing gang violence in their home countries.
At a Texas detention facility, immigrant advocates complained that parents have gotten busy signals or no answers from a 1-800 number provided by federal authorities to get information about their children.
Attorneys have spoken to about 200 immigrants at the Port Isabel detention facility near Los F resnos, Texas, since last week, and only a few knew where their children were being held, said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.
âThe U.S. government never had any plan to reunite these families that were separated,â Sandoval-Moshenberg said, and now it is âscrambling to undo this terrible thing that they have done.â
A message left for HHS, which runs the hotline, was not immediately returned.
Many children in shelters in southern Texas have not had contact with their parents, though some have reported being allowed to speak with them in recent days, said Meghan Johnson Perez, director of the Childrenâs Project for the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, which provides free legal services to minors.
âThings might be changing now. The agencies are trying to coordinate better,â she said. âBut the kids we have been seeing have not been in contact with the parents. They donât know where the pa rent is. Theyâre just distraught. Their urgent need is just trying to figure out, âWhere is my parent?ââ
Administration officials have been casting about for detention space for migrants since calling for an end to separations. The Pentagon has drawn up plans to hold as many as 20,000 at U.S. military bases.
The administration has also asked the courts to let it detain families together for an extended period while their immigration cases are resolved. Under a 1997 court settlement, children must be released from detention as quickly as possible, which generally has been construed to be within 20 days.
Ms. L.; et al., Petitioners-Plaintiffs, v. U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, et al. by Doug Stanglin on Scribd
Immigrant supporters have led protests in recent days in states such as Florida and Texas. In Los Angeles, police arrested 25 demonstrators at a rally Tuesday ahead of Sessionsâ address.
Outside the U.S. attorneyâs office, prot esters carried signs reading, âFree the children!â and âStop caging families.â Clergy members blocked the street by forming a human chain. Police handcuffed them and led them away.
Later, protesters gathered outside the hotel where Sessions gave his speech. As the attorney generalâs motorcade arrived, the crowd chanted, âNazi, go home.â
Contributing: Julie Garcia in Matamoros, Mexico; Alan Gomez, in Miami;The Associated PressImmigrant families in the spotlight Fullscreen
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.An immigrant child looks out the window of a bus as protesters try to block a bus carrying migrant children out of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Detention Center on June 23, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Dozens of protesters blocked the bus from leaving the center resulting in scuffles with police and Border Patrol agents before the bus retreated back to the center. Fullscreen Immigrant Patricia Lozano, from Honduras, waits with her son Diego inside the bus station Saturday, June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. The family was processed and released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Fullscreen Immigrant Elyse Hernandez, from Honduras, right, waits with her daughter, Genesis, inside the bus station Saturday, June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. The family slept on a bridge for three days before entering the United States. Fullscreen Ruben Prado, an immigrant from Guatemala seeking asylum in the United States, waits on the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Prado arrived at the bridge today after traveling for 20 days. Fullscreen Immigrants from Honduras seeking asylum wait on the Gateway International Bridge, which connects the United States and Mexico, in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, June 24, 2018. The family has been waiting two days on the bridge to enter the United States to seek asylum. Fullscreen Manuela Candelaria Solano holds her young son at the Juventud 2000 shelter in Tijuana, Mexico on June 20, 2018. Fullscreen Children in masks are escorted out of the Cayuga Center in New York on June 21, 2018. Many of the children at the center are separated from their family. Fullscreen The Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York, as seen from a drone on June 21, 2018. An undisclosed amount of immigrant children are being held at the facility as part of a contract with the Unit ed States Department of Health and Human Services. Fullscreen Children in masks are escorted out of the Cayuga Center in New York on June 21, 2018. Many of the children at the center are separated from their family. Fullscreen A group of 30 people made up of Mexican and Central American line up to enter the El Chaparral U.S. entry point in Tijuana, Mexico on June 21, 2018, with the intention of seeking asylum. Fullscreen Nancy Gonzalez, 23, of Guatemala, cries at the possibility of being separated from her daughter, Angie, 2, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Francisco Alachea Martin, right, a volunteer nurse, took Gonzalez, her sister, and their daughters to receive medical attention. Gonzalez arrived in Nogales on Tuesday to seek asylum. Fullscreen Immigrants seeking asylum status wait to be called for an interview on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Fullscreen A volunteer gives directions on how to catch a bus. Nathaly Anai Urbina, 4, sits next to her father at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley's Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. About 50 migrants who were released from U.S. government custody on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, were taken to the respite center for meals and supplies before boarding buses taking them north to stay with their families or friends while awaiting immigration hearings before a judge. Fullscreen Guadalupe Arcos Avila, 34, shows a picture of her family on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at the DeConcini Por t of Entry in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. She has been waiting for an asylum interview with U.S. immigration officials for nine days. Fullscreen Cell phones charge at the Juventud 2000 shelter in Tijuana, Mexico on June 20, 2018. Fullscreen Magali Nieto Romero, 33, sits with her children on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. She has been waiting for an asylum interview with U.S. immigration officials for nine days. Fullscreen A woman writes names with recent arrivals on a waiting list of people seeking asylum in Tijuana, Mexico on June 21, 2018. Fullscreen A woman with two small children enters the El Chaparral U.S. entry point in Tijuana, Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum on June 21, 2018. FullscreenReplay
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