The U.S. government urged a federal judge on Tuesday not to require that it stop separating and quickly reunite migrant families after they illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border, saying President Donald Trump’s executive order last week “largely” addressed those goals.
In a filing with the U.S. District Court in San Diego, the Department of Justice said a preliminary injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union would be improper because it would require releasing parents subject to mandatory detention, and illegally releasing some children from custody.
It also said imposing the “arbitrary” deadlines sought by the ACLU would likely “cause confusion” rather than speed up family reunifications.
More than 2,300 migrant children were separated from their parents after the Trump administration began a “zero tolerance” policy in early May, seeking to prosecute all adults who crossed the border illegally, including those traveling with children.
Trump issued his June 20 executive order to end the family separations, but the government has yet to reunite about 2,000 children with their parents.
The ACLU said on Monday Trump’s order contained “loopholes,” and proposed requiring that families be reunified within 30 days, unless the parents were unfit or were housed in adult-only criminal facilities.
In Tuesday’s filing, the Justice Department said implementing Trump’s order “will, of course, take time to be undertaken properly.” It added, “The court should not accept plaintiffs’ invitation to preempt or disrupt that implementation effort.”
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, said in an email said he would review Tuesday’s filing.
It was unclear when U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw would rule on the injunction request, but he said this week that the case’s “urgent nature” required an accelerated timetable.
The ACLU had sued on behalf of a mother and her then 6-year-old daughter, who were separated after arriving last November in the United States to seek asylum and escape religious persecution in Democratic Republic of Congo.
While they were reunited in March, the ACLU is pursuing class-action claims on behalf of other immigrants.
Sabraw has not ruled on the case’s merits but on June 6 said forced separations could “shock the conscience,” a standard for determining due process violations under the U.S. Constitution.
The case is Ms. L et al v U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, No. 18-00428.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry