WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has 30 days to reunite children and parents who were separated at the border, under a new court order. Here’s a look at what the latest federal ruling means:
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
This spring, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S. border: Anyone illegally crossing the border would be referred for criminal prosecution, even if they had few or no previous offenses. Because children aren’t charged, the policy resulted in some 2,300 children being separated from the adults they were traveling with and sent to shelters and foster homes across the country, according to the government.
Until the policy was announced, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
WHAT DO THE COURTS SAY?
On Tuesday, a U.S. district judge in San Diego issued a nationwide injunction on family separations and said separated families must be reunited within 30 days.
If children are younger than 5, they must be reunited with their families within 14 days of the order. And the government must provide phone contact between parents and their children within 10 days.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, made clear he thought the current policy of zero tolerance had caused irreparable harm to children.
“The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property,” wrote the judge.
WHAT DOES THE ADMINISTRATION SAY?
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the administration would be able to meet the 30-day deadline. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress shortly before the court ruling 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 a week ago.
Trump hasn’t directly responded to the new 30-day deadline. And Health and Human Services, which takes charge of the children, referred questions to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department kicked the issue to Congress, saying it’s up to lawmakers to figure out a way to pass legislation that would both keep families together and detain every person crossing the border illegally even if they were traveling with children.
“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,” the department wrote in a statement.
WHAT DOES CONGRESS SAY?
Both chambers of Congress are working on legislation aimed at ending separation of migrant families. But there’s not been agreement on including a specific timetable in the legislation.
Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, are struggling to overcome internal party divisions on the issue. Hard-right lawmakers say their voters want the flow of illegal immigration to stop, while more moderate lawmakers say they are disturbed by images of traumatized children.
On Wednesday, the House voted down wide-ranging legislation that would have restricted family-based immigration while also barring the Homeland Security Department from separating children from their parents. It also would have provided $25 billion for Trump’s border wall and given young immigrants known as “Dreamers” a chance at citizenship.