A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite immigrant children who were separated from their families at U.S. border crossings, and to refrain from detaining parents without their children.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego said in a ruling late Tuesday there was no dispute that the U.S. government wasn’t prepared to accommodate the consequences of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all adults entering the U.S. illegally from Mexico and separating any children they had with them.
“Measures were not in place to provide for communication between governmental agencies responsible for detaining parents and those responsible for housing children, or to provide for ready communication between separated parents and children,” the judge said. “There was no reunification plan in place, and families have been separated for months.”
His ruling applies to both families crossing into the U.S. illegally between checkpoints, and those who request asylum at border crossings.
Even though Trump, after an outcry, last week signed an executive order that reversed his administration’s policy of separating families seeking entry without a visa, the judge said a court order was needed because the executive order included “subjective” standards for separating minors from their parents and the government has only stated it will reunite children with their families for removal from the country.
The judge gave the government two weeks to return children younger than 5 to their parents and 30 days for children 5 and older. He also ordered the government to provide for communications between the detained adults and their children and not to deport any adult without their children.
“This ruling is an enormous victory for parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents the immigrants in the case, said in a statement. “Tears will be flowing in detention centers across the country when the families learn they will be reunited.”
Representatives for the Justice Department didn’t immediately return a call for comment outside regular business hours.
The decision is a defeat for Trump, who has vigorously defended the practice as a necessary deterrent and blamed Democrats for allowing undocumented immigrants to “infest” the U.S.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the family separations were necessary because all illegal border crossings are being prosecuted as crimes under the zero tolerance policy, and children cannot go to jail with their parents.
Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor punishable by as much as six months in prison for the first offense, and a felony punishable by as much as two years for the second offense.
The U.S. said it’s taken about 2,000 minors from their families from April to May. The ACLU has estimated the number may be double that amount.
Judge Sabraw was appointed to the federal bench in 2003 by President George W. Bush.