Seventeen U.S. states sued over the federal government’s controversial policy of separating undocumented children from parents, intensifying an ongoing legal fight just hours after President Donald Trump scored a major victory on his travel ban.
A complaint calling the policy unconstitutional was filed Tuesday in federal court in Seattle by states including Washington, California, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the District of Columbia. The joint effort by the Democratic state attorneys general mirrors the battle over Trump’s travel ban against several Muslim-majority countries — a battle the states lost Tuesday in a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling along ideological lines.
The states allege the border policy violates immigrants’ Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law and due process. The policy also runs afoul of the federal Administrative Procedure Act and U.S. asylum laws, the states say.
U.S. border agents have “taken children as young as infants from their parents, often with no warning or opportunity to say goodbye, and providing no information about where the children are being taken or when they will next see each other,” according to the complaint.
The attorneys general are seeking a court order halting the separation process and forcing the government to reunite families. The states also want to bar the Trump administration from deporting parents without their kids or conditioning reunification on an agreement to not seek asylum.
Trump’s victory in the travel ban suit will have no impact on the dispute at the U.S. border, the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday. The New York-based rights group first challenged the child-separation policy in March in San Diego federal court, contending it violates the due process rights of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
Trump issued an executive order June 20 to halt the child-separation practice by detaining families together indefinitely instead. The directive hasn’t taken effect because it requires a judge to first amend a 1997 settlement agreement that governs how the U.S. treats undocumented minors who’ve been detained.
That accord, known as the Flores agreement, says children cannot be held for longer than 20 days, among other restrictions. Trump’s executive order would likely result in minors being detained with their parents for far longer periods while their asylum claims are heard.
The commissioner of Customs and Border Protection announced Monday that his agency has stopped referring adults who illegally cross the border with children for criminal prosecution because that would require separating parents from their children. He said the move was in response to Trump’s June 20 order and that his agency was working on a plan to resume criminal referrals.