The US district court judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego on Tuesday ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days, setting a deadline in a process that has so far yielded uncertainty about when children might again see their parents.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw late Tuesday said the Trump administration has for months randomly “engaged in a widespread practice of separating migrant families,” including those who entered the country legally seeking asylum. The government, was not prepared for the arrival of separated children and had no plan in place for reunification.


Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush, also issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations, unless the parent is deemed unfit or doesn’t want to be with the child. It also requires the government to provide phone contact between parents and their children within 10 days. 

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in recent weeks and placed in government-contracted shelters — hundreds of miles away, in some cases — under a now-abandoned policy toward families caught illegally entering the U.S.

In an intense condemnation of the handling of these separations, Sabraw called it a “startling reality” that the government was not tracking the children once they were separated and did not enable communication between parents and children, noting that the same courtesies allowed for the personal property of incarcerated individuals weren’t extended to migrant children.


“The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property,” Sabraw wrote. “Certainly, that cannot satisfy the requirements of due process.”

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is set to vote on Wednesday on a immigration proposal designed as a compromise between moderate and conservative factions of the Republican caucus.

The bill would provide $25bn for a wall on the Mexican border. It would also limit legal immigration, provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and end family separations.

“We’ve made it extremely clear we want to keep families together and we want to secure the border and enforce our laws,” the House speaker, Paul Ryan, said.

Donald Trump issued an executive order to end the family separations on 20 June, but the government has yet to reunite about 2,000 children with their parents. A Department of Homeland Security statement over the weekend on reuniting families seemed only to sow further confusion.

Before the preliminary injunction ruling, the government urged Sabraw not to rule that it stop separating and quickly reunite migrant families after they illegally cross the US-Mexico border, saying Trump’s executive order last week largely addressed those goals.


But the judge disagreed. “The facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making,” Sabraw wrote. “They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our constitution.

The ruling is a win for the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit in March involving a girl who was separated from her Congolese mother and a 14-year-old boy who was separated from his Brazilian mother.

Tears will be flowing in detention centres across the country when the families learn they will be reunited,” said the ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.

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