A federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to end its migrant family separation policy within 30 days late Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw of San Diego issued the preliminary injunction, finding the practice likely violates the Constitution. The decision is not a ruling on the merits of the dispute.
“Asylum seekers like Ms. L. and many other class members may be fleeing persecution and are entitled to careful consideration by government officials, particularly so if they have a credible fear of persecution,” he wrote. “We are a country of laws, and of compassion. We have plainly stated our intent to treat refugees with an ordered process, and benevolence, by codifying principles of asylum.”
“The government’s treatment of Ms. L. and other similarly situated class members does not meet this standard, and it is unlikely to pass constitutional muster,” he added.
Although President Donald Trump issued an executive order providing that migrant families in immigration facilities should be housed together on June 20, the proclamation did not affect some 2,000 migrant children currently in federal custody.
Sabraw concluded an injunction was warranted in Tuesday’s order because the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim. The administration’s zero-tolerance policy, he explained, likely violates the right to family integrity as established by the Constitution’s due process guarantees. That right applies in the plaintiff’s circumstances because she is lawfully seeking asylum, Sabraw previously found.
The ruling requires that alien minors be detained with their parents unless the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concludes the parents are unfit. The government is further bound to release alien minors if their parents are freed from custody. Finally, the court gave immigration officials 10 days to facilitate regular communication between affected families, pending their reunification.
“This ruling is an enormous victory for parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union in a press release. “Tears will be flowing in detention centers across the country when the families learn they will be reunited.”
The case was occasioned when a Catholic Congolese migrant identified in court documents as “Ms. L” arrived at the San Ysidro port of entry in southern California with her 6-year-old daughter, seeking asylum from religious persecution. The plaintiff was separated from her daughter, styled S. S., just days after their arrival, and slated for expedited removal. Ms. L’s pending deportation rendered S.S. an unaccompanied minor in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Ms. L and her daughter have since been reunited after a five-month separation.
The ACLU organized a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. L. The case was granted class action status, allowing other migrants to join the suit and obtain relief.
The case is Ms. L v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.