On Tuesday, June 26, a federal judge in San Diego issued a preliminary nationwide injunction ordering Trump administration officials to reunite separated migrant children with their parents within 30 days. The injunction was the result of a class action suit brought forward by the ACLU on behalf of numerous parents who had been separated from their children at the border. The order requires children over 5 to be reunited with their parents within 30 days, while children under 5 must be reunited within 2 weeks. Judge Sabraw’s ruling comes after a growing wave of uproar from both sides of the aisle over the Trump administration’s new policy to separate migrant families seeking asylum in order to deter illegal immigrants from trying to get into the country. This policy was put into place in response to a growing wave of asylum seekers crossing the border from Central America who are fleeing violence and instability in their home countries. After the increasing backlash, President Trump signed an executive order on June 20 that effectively ended the policy of separating families at the border, but little has been done thus far to reunite migrant parents with their children.
Despite the injunction and the fact that separations at the border ended over a week ago, the administration has still made very little progress in complying with the judge’s order. Officials have insisted that the process will be significantly more complicated than it appears, since the children and parents are under the custody of different government organizations. While the parents currently undergoing the asylum process are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, their children are being detained by the Department of Health and Human Services, and it would require collaboration between the two departments to reunite these families. Furthermore, due to a 1997 court settlement, the federal government is prohibited from housing children in immigration detention centers for more than 20 days. Since the process of seeking asylum typically takes much longer than 20 days, even if children were to be reunited with their parents in federal detention centers, they would have to be removed and placed into foster care or with relatives should the time limit expire. As of the day the injunction was given, there were 2,047 children under the care of HHS, only slightly less than the 2,053 who were being housed when the executive order ending the separation policy was signed.
This most recent crisis is just one in a series of decisions that the Trump administration has taken in order to demonstrate its “zero tolerance” policy towards illegal immigration. The problem with the DACA children, or DREAMERs, remains unsolved and the president has on more than one occasion displayed a desire to cut legal immigration as well, particularly from developing countries. Congress seems alternatively unwilling or unable to solve the immigration crises created by the administration. On Wednesday, June 27, the GOP failed to pass a broad immigration bill that would have covered issues ranging from DACA to the border wall, as well as addressing the family separation crisis. The bill ultimately died in the House after limited Republican support and no Democratic votes. Congress will leave for their Fourth of July recess having failed to solve the situation at the border, once again demonstrating their lack of effectiveness in standing up to the Trump administration.