WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department says it disagrees with a federal judge’s ruling rejecting a Trump administration bid to detain immigrant children throughout the parents’ immigration proceedings, which could last months or even years.
But the department did not say whether it would appeal Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee’s ruling, a sharp rebuke to the administration’s family-separation policy, which has triggered nationwide outrage and multiple legal challenges.
In a strongly worded order on Monday, Gee rejected the Justice Department’s request to lift a requirement that limits detention of immigrant children with their parents to 20 days. That mandate came in the 1997 settlement of a lawsuit, Flores v. Reno, in which a 15-year-old girl from El Salvador illegally crossed the border in 1985, unaccompanied by an adult.
Ruling Monday in a lawsuit challenging the extended detention of parents and their children apprehended at the border, Gee wrote: “Defendants seek to light a match to the Flores Agreement and ask this Court to upend the parties’ agreement by judicial fiat… It is apparent that Defendants’ Application is a cynical attempt…to shift responsibility to the Judiciary for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered Executive action that have led to the current stalemate.”
Gee’s order called the Justice Department request “procedurally improper and wholly without merit.”
In a statement, the Justice Department said: “We disagree with the court’s ruling declining to amend the Flores Agreement to recognize the current crisis of families making the dangerous and unlawful journey across our southern border.”
Caving to international outrage and stiff opposition from most Americans, as well as congressional Democrats and many Republicans, Trump signed a June 20 executive order that he said would halt the family separations. About 2,000 children of migrant parents remain separated from their parents, and about 500 children have been reunited with their parents, the administration says.
Meanwhile, in a separate American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, Justice Department lawyers admitted in court Monday that the government would fail to meet a San Diego federal judge’s Tuesday deadline for reuniting all detained children under 5 forcibly separated from migrant parents who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
The administration provided a list of 102 separated children under 5 but said at a court hearing that just over 50 of them had been reunited by Tuesday’s deadline.
San Diego U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction June 26 requiring reunification of children under 5 within 14 days, and all children within 30 days.
“The court is holding the Trump administration’s feet to the fire to get these kids reunited with their parents,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “That’s the most important thing. It’s extremely disappointing the government will not be in full compliance with the court order, but the judge has stepped in to manage this mess of the administration’s making.”
Along with the ACLU suit, others have mounted legal challenges to the Trump border policy.
Democratic attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to immediately reunite more than 2,000 children with their parents. The suit also contends the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of arresting all those who cross the border illegally violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and inflicts severe trauma on children.
And a Seattle-based immigrant rights group, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, sued the Trump administration, arguing the government is holding children of asylum-seeking immigrants “for no legitimate reason,” causing “irreparable psychological damage.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the administration is continuing its “zero-tolerance” policy of detaining all those who cross the border illegally.