WASHINGTON – In the latest blow to the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, a federal judge Tuesday rejected the Justice Department’s bid to extend court-imposed deadlines for reuniting families.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled in San Diego that the government must reunite by day’s end all children under 5 forcibly separated from their undocumented immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. And as many as 2,900 children nationwide still separated from their undocumented immigrant parents must be reunited by July 26, Sabraw ruled.
“These are firm deadlines,” Sabrow said. “They’re not aspirational goals.”
Sabraw also said DNA tests, which the administration said last week it would rely on to match children forcibly separated from parents who crossed the border illegally, could be used only when “genuine” reason exists to doubt the parental relationship, or if it cannot be established by any other means.
When DNA testing is used, Sabraw ruled at a status conference, samples must be destroyed immediately after matches are established and must not be added to a government database.
Sabraw granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction June 26 requiring reunification of children under 5 within 14 days, and all children within 30 days, in the ACLU’s class-action suit challenging the border-separation policy.
The administration provided a list of 102 separated children under 5 but acknowledged Tuesday only four had been reunited, with 24 more expected by the end of the day.
Asked about the blown deadline earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump told reporters he had a “solution,” as he put it: “Don’t come to our country illegally. Come like other people do. Come legally.”
The ACLU applauded Sabrow’s Tuesday decision.
“The court could not have been clearer that business as usual is not acceptable,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement. “The Trump administration must get these children and parents reunited.”
The administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of detaining all those caught crossing the border and separating more than 2,500 children from their immigrant parents have led to chaos, confusion, nationwide outrage, multiple legal challenges and vociferous oppositions among most Americans, as well as Democratic, and some Republican, lawmakers.
Trump signed a June 20 executive order that he said would halt the family separations. About 500 children have been reunited with their parents, the administration says.