A federal judge ordered the U.S. government to reunite families separated under President Donald Trump’s stringent immigration policy.
“This situation has reached a crisis level,” wrote U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in an emergency order. “There is no genuine dispute that the Government was not prepared to accommodate the mass influx of separated children […] There was no reunification plan in place, and families have been separated for months.”
More than 2,300 migrant children, writes Reveal News, have been taken from their parents since the Trump administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy in April. Under the springtime dictate, any adult caught crossing the border illegally will be prosecuted in criminal court.
In response to widespread outrage at family separation—sparked in large part by extensive media coverage—President Trump issued an executive order ending the practice. The order, signed last week, raised legal questions on whether parents can be held with their children for more than 20 days.
However, Trump’s decision did little to address the “thousands of parents” who have already been detained in facilities far from their children.
“The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings,” wrote Sabraw. “Yet, the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children. The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”
Sabraw’s verdict follows class-action litigation filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two migrant pants: a Congolese mother separated from her 7-year old daughter and a Brazilian asylum-seeker torn from her teenage boy.
“The ruling is an enormous victory for parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” said Lee Gelert, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project.
“Tears will be flowing in detention centers across the country when the families learn they will be reunited,” said Gelert, who also argued the case.
Sabraw echoed Democratic criticism of the Trump administration, calling the family separation conundrum “a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making.”
The judge also demanded that the government keep families together in Department of Homeland Security custody, except in instances of child endangerment. He directed the government to reunite every family with children under 5 years of age within two weeks—all others should have the chance to speak over the phone within the same timeframe.
“We are a country of laws, and of compassion,” opined Sabraw. “The right to family integrity still applies here. The context of family separation practice at issue here, namely an international border, does not render the practice constitutional, nor does it shield the practice from judicial review.”