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Federal Judge Gives Trump Administration 30 Days To Reunite Separated Families

Jun 27, 2018
Originally published on June 28, 2018 12:43 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A federal judge in California has given the Trump administration a deadline - 30 days. Thirty days to reunite parents and children who were separated at the southwest border. That is a logistical challenge. There are about 2,000 children in the government's care, and they are scattered in shelters across the country with many of their parents in immigration detention thousands of miles away.

Joining me now with more is NPR's Joel Rose. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Give us a little more detail on what exactly this ruling from the judge says.

ROSE: So the ruling came down late last night. And the judge lays out a very clear timeline. The government has 10 days to make sure that all of these children and parents are in contact with each other. It has 15 days to reunite the youngest children, kids under 5, with their parents. And it has 30 days to reunite all of these children.

KELLY: Oh, so an even tighter deadline for kids younger than 5.

ROSE: Exactly.

KELLY: OK.

ROSE: Judge Dana Sabraw in California seemed pretty swayed by the argument from the plaintiffs that the due process rights of these families were violated and that the separation caused irreparable harm to the kids and to the parents.

KELLY: So how does this ruling line up against what the federal government has said it plans to do to reunify these families?

ROSE: Well, in its legal filings, the government argued against a firm timeline for reunification. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is in charge of these children, the process of reunification takes on average almost two months. That's partly because the government has to make sure that these parents are who they say they are and they're not handing the children over to the wrong people. But Judge Sabraw is clearly saying here that he just wants to see the government move faster. He wrote that the government tracks property better than it tracks these migrant children.

KELLY: To get into the nitty-gritty a little bit, do we know where these families would be reunited?

ROSE: That's a great question, and it is entirely unclear. The judge's order doesn't say where the reunification should happen. The administration wants to detain these migrant families together, but it simply doesn't have enough beds to hold all of them. And even if it did, the children would have to be released after 20 days. That's because of a separate court settlement that limits how long children can be kept in jail-like settings. The administration does have another option, which is releasing these families into the U.S. and monitoring them until their immigration court dates. That is what the Obama administration did. And realistically, immigrant rights advocates say that is the only thing the administration can do under this 30-day deadline. Here's a clip from Anthony Romero of the ACLU, which brought this lawsuit in the first place.

ANTHONY ROMERO: If we're making America great again, then let's make the government work to reunite these kids with their families.

KELLY: Well, I mean, the clock is now ticking, right? With this ruling from the judge in California, doesn't the Trump administration have to decide what it's going to do to move forward?

ROSE: Right. The government could appeal. But when I asked today, the Department of Justice would not say if it plans to. We know the administration meanwhile is laying the groundwork for a bigger family detention network. The Department of Defense says it's been asked to prepare 20,000 beds for unaccompanied children on military bases in Texas. And the administration wants Congress to lift the limits on how long immigration authorities can hold children. The DOJ is also asking a court to lift those limits, but I don't think anybody expects Congress or the courts to do that quickly.

KELLY: Very quickly, in the moments we have left, Joel, it sounds like we are headed for a legal battle here among the other legal battles the administration's fighting.

ROSE: Maybe very similar to the one the administration just won in the Supreme Court yesterday about the president's travel ban. Yeah, both sides are digging in. You know, the Department of Justice and the administration talk about lawlessness and gangs at the borders. Immigrant rights advocates say these are asylum-seekers and women and children who have a right to make their claims.

KELLY: Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.

KELLY: That is NPR's Joel Rose reporting there on a federal judge's order that families separated at the border must be reunited within the next couple of weeks or a month, depending on the age of the child. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.