June 26 (UPI) -- A group of 18 attorneys general sued President Donald Trump's administration Tuesday over separation of migrant families at the border.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington argues the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy is illegally inflicting trauma on children by prosecuting more people who attempt to cross the border illegally and separating them from their children.
"Border officials are unlawfully turning away these families on the pretext that the United States is 'full' or no longer accepting asylum seekers. This unlawful practice exacerbates the trauma already suffered by refugee families while simultaneously artificially increasing illegal entry violations."
Attorneys general of California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state, all of whom are Democrats, joined the lawsuit.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said the policy is "irrationally discriminatory" and in violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
"It targets only people crossing our southwestern border, the majority of whom are from Latin America, and not anyone crossing the northern border or entering the United States elsewhere," Underwood's office said.
The lawsuit comes after Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said he ordered border agents not to refer families to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution until the two agencies can reach an agreement on a policy that allows parents to be prosecuted without being separated from their children.
In the meantime families will be released and ordered to return later for a court date because Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacks necessary detention space for families.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order declaring entire immigrant families would be detained together by the Department of Homeland Security pending legal proceedings for the parents and children would only be separated from their parents if their safety is at risk, after facing backlash against the policy.
Defense Secretary James Mattis also said the Pentagon will build tent camps at Goodfellow Air Force Base and Fort Bliss in Texas, which will hold unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families respectively.
Speaking at a lunch meeting with Republican members of Congress on Tuesday, Trump said his administration inherited a "hodgepodge" of immigration laws that have been put together over years and again called for a system that immediately turns away illegal immigrants.
"It's called, 'I'm sorry, you can't come in. You have to go in through a legal process,'" Trump said. "You don't have to see a judge where the judge is going to take three years before you can come back. In the meantime, you never come back because you're already in the country. You're someplace in the country. And that would be bad, but it's really bad when it's a criminal."
Trump accused migrants crossing the border of using young children "for their own benefit" while calling for increased border security.
"We need the border wall. We need the border. We need border security and we need modern equipment. And we'll get it done, I have no doubt," he said.
Trump also hailed the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to uphold his so-called "travel ban" on migrants and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries as a "tremendous success."
"This is a great victory for our Constitution. We have to be tough and we have to be safe, and we have to be secure," he said. "At a minimum, we have to make sure that we vet people coming into the country -- we know who's coming in, we know where they're coming from. We just have to know who's coming here."