Thursday 20 September 2018

US congress must address immigration after judge’s order – justice chiefs

District judge Dana Sabraw issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations.

Vehicles leave the Port Isabel Detention Centre, which holds detainees of the US immigration and customs enforcement department (AP)
Vehicles leave the Port Isabel Detention Centre, which holds detainees of the US immigration and customs enforcement department (AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

The US justice department has said a judge’s order to reunite families separated at the Mexican border “makes it even more imperative” that congress passes legislation that would enable it to both enforce the law and keep families together.

Otherwise, the administration said, “lawlessness at the border will continue”.

The administration was responding to a federal judge’s order on Tuesday that US border authorities must reunite separated families within 30 days.

If the children are younger than five, they must be reunited with families within 14 days of the order.

The order poses logistical problems for the administration and its “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings.

That policy resulted in more than 2,000 children separated from their families in recent weeks, according to the government, and placed in government-contracted shelters while the adults are detained.

US district judge Dana Sabraw, of San Diego, California, an appointee of President George W Bush, issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations, unless the parent is deemed unfit or does not want to be with the child.

The judge’s order also requires the US government to provide phone contact between parents and their children within 10 days.

Mr Trump had already signed an order ending family separations and said families would be detained together. But Judge Sabraw’s order forces the administration to adhere to a timeline and quickly address families affected by the hardline policy embraced earlier this spring.

The justice department said in a statement: “Last night’s court decision makes it even more imperative that Congress finally act to give federal law enforcement the ability to simultaneously enforce the law and keep families together.

“Without this action by congress, lawlessness at the border will continue, which will only lead to predictable results_more heroin and fentanyl pushed by Mexican cartels plaguing our communities, a surge in MS-13 gang members, and an increase in the number of human trafficking prosecutions.”

It is unclear how legislation might enable Attorney General Jeff Sessions to continue the zero-tolerance policy without separating families or placing children in jail-like settings.

The Obama administration at one point tried housing families in special detention centres while immigration judges reviewed their cases. But after a federal judge ruled the arrangement violated a long-standing agreement barring kids from jail-like settings, even with their parents.

The government then began releasing families into the US pending notification of their next court date – a policy US attorney general Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump have derided as “catch and release”.

It is not clear how border authorities will meet the latest deadline.

Health and human services secretary Alex Azar told US congress that his department still has custody of 2,047 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. That is only six fewer children than the number in HHS custody as of last Wednesday.

Press Association

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