A "tent city" is seen near the U.S.-Mexico border at the port of entry in Tornillo, Texas, on June 20. A federal judge ruled Tuesday children who are detained and separated from their parents must be reunited within 30 days. Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA-EFE
June 27 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Tuesday ordered that undocumented immigrant children separated from their families in detention at the U.S.-Mexico border must be reunited within 30 days -- and children under 5 within 14 days.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in response to a American Civil Liberties Union request to end to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal immigration. The policy has resulted in some children being detained separately from their parents as their cases are processed.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates more than 2,000 children are currently being held in immigration detention centers separately from their parents.
In his opinion, Sabraw sharply criticized the administration's border policy.
"The facts set forth before the Court portray reactive governance -- responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the Government's own making," Sabraw wrote. "They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution. This is particularly so in the treatment of migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers and small children."
"Unless there is a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child, or the parent affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily declines to be reunited with the child ... Defendants must reunify all [parents] with their minor children who are under the age of five within fourteen days," the ruling states. "Defendants must reunify all [parents] with their minor children age five and over within thirty days."
The ruling also says separated parents and children who aren't in contact must be able to speak by phone within 10 days.
Sabraw also said it was a "startling reality" that the zero tolerance policy was implemented "without any effective system or procedure for tracking the children after they were separated from their parents, enabling communication between the parents and their children after separation and reuniting the parents and children after the parents are returned to immigration custody following completion of their criminal sentence."
Sabraw noted the government does have a system to track immigrants' personal property during criminal and immigration proceedings.
"Yet, the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children," he said.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said the ruling was a victory for undocumented immigrant children and parents who have been detained in recent months.
"Many of these parents and children thought they might never see each other again. They have literally been living through a nightmare and the court has now ended their trauma," he said.
A government motion complained that Sabraw should have given U.S. attorneys more time.
"A court imposed process is likely to slow the reunification process and cause confusion and conflicting obligations, rather than speed the process of reunifying families in a safe and efficient manner," the government attorneys wrote.