In a massive legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal judge late Friday ruled that all immigrant families impacted by the government’s widely-reviled family separation policy be included in an ongoing class-action lawsuit.
This ruling is a direct victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)–which originally brought the litigation on behalf of an immigrant mother whose daughter was ripped from her arms by U.S. immigration authorities last spring before being each were detained separately some 2,000 miles apart.
In a 14-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw said that he was expanding the universe of parties included in the present litigation due to an “undisputed” report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) which detailed how the Trump administration separated thousands more children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border than previously acknowledged.
“Clearly, the OIG Report is a significant development in this case,” Sabraw noted. “And, importantly,the contents of the Report are undisputed.”
The judge summed up this report as follows:
The most significant facts to come out of the Report are (1) that in the summer of 2017, [the Department of Justice] and DHS were separating parents and children at the border pursuant to the Administration’s new policy, and (2) during and after that time, potentially thousands of children who had been separated from a parent were received by [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] and subsequently discharged from ORR custody to designated sponsors…prior to the [court order ending the family separation policy.]
As Law&Crime reported at the time, there are no precise numbers of separated children available because the government simply didn’t keep track of them. Rather, the Trump administration only began keeping track of separated immigrant children at the behest of the above-referenced court order issued by Sabraw in late June 2018.
Sabraw also outlined the report’s data:
Although the Administration’s zero tolerance policy was publicly announced in May 2018, the OIG Report states, “From July through November 2017, the El Paso sector of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency within DHS, implemented new policies that resulted in 281 families being separated.” During this same period, July through November 2017, ORR staff “observed a significant increase in the number and proportion of separated children (i.e., children separated from their parent or legal guardian by DHS) relative to other UACs [unaccompanied alien children].” (Id.) “Overall, ORR and ASPR [the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response] officials estimate that thousands of separated children entered ORR care and were released prior to the June 26, 2018 court order.
Now, because the administration effectively told on itself, immigration agencies have no choice but to allow the untold number of families affected by the unpopular policy becomes parties to the ACLU’s continuing legal battle.
The order also witheringly takes the administration to task for their initial–and repeated–denials that the family separation policy even existed.
“Defendants suggest [the DHS OIG report’s information] is not a new development, but rather something the parties knew about, or should have known about,” Sabraw notes. “However, that suggestion stands in stark contrast to Defendants’ representations in this case in as late as May of 2018 that the government did not have either a policy or practice of separating families at the border.”
Last year, the Trump administration mislead Sabraw by claiming that there was no official policy of family separation. Later news reports–and internal administration memos–proved the falsity of the claims made by various administration apparatchiks and attorneys.
Sabraw also pointed out the somewhat bizarre nature of administration claims to the contrary viz. family separation.
The Court notes the [false] representation was made only a few days before the Attorney General publicly announced the zero tolerance policy under which children were to be separated from their parents if they entered the country illegally,” the judge added in a footnote.
Later on in the opinion, Sabraw chastised the administration for arguing against expanding the class:
The hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its people and those within its borders. That [the government] may have to change course and undertake additional effort to address these issues does not render modification of the class definition unfair; it only serves to underscore the unquestionable importance of the effort and why it is necessary (and worthwhile).
Lee Gelernt is the lead attorney working on the family separation lawsuit and the deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“The court powerfully stated that there’s a lot at stake here and that it was not prepared to let the government escape responsibility simply because it might be burdensome to track the families down,” Gelernt said in a press release.
[image via Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images]