By Bianca Bruno
SAN DIEGO – A federal judge on Thursday kept a stay in place that blocks deportations of immigrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, paving the way for children to pursue asylum.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw stayed deportations of reunited families last month after attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union reported the government was immediately deporting reunited families without giving them time to consider their legal options, such as asylum, to stay in the U.S.
Sabraw is overseeing multiple cases in the Southern District of California stemming from the separation of asylum-seeking Central American families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The ACLU asked the judge that families be given seven days after being reunited to reconnect and come up with plans to pursue asylum claims or return to their home countries.
It’s been three weeks since the government reunited families it deemed “eligible” for reunification. But over 550 children remain separated from their parents, who were deported or released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody into the United States, according to the latest status update.
On Thursday, Sabraw granted the stay requested by the plaintiffs in the class action brought by the kids of separated families, M.M.M. v. Sessions. The kids claim the government has denied them their right to seek asylum claims separate and apart from their parents.
While the children who were separated from their parents do not have final orders for removal, their parents do. But attorneys for the kids told Sabraw at a hearing last week the Immigration and Nationality Act allows children seeking asylum to be accompanied by their families during the process.
“Re-separation of the family would be antithetical to the president’s executive order which expressly restored family unity and abandoned the family separation policy, and it would greatly exacerbate the intensive efforts presently underway to reunite the nearly 400 parents who were previously removed from the country with their children who remain in the United States,” Sabraw wrote in the order issued Thursday.
At last week’s hearing, Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart implored the judge to quickly make a decision on the temporary restraining order banning deportations, saying there was “potential unrest” at one of the detention centers where people want to be either released or deported.
But Sabraw noted in his order Thursday “it is unclear what that unrest is and there is no evidence before the court to support counsel’s statement.”
Sabraw rejected the government’s argument that parents in the initial class action filed in San Diego, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, had waived their children’s rights to seek asylum when they signed forms requesting family reunification.
“The class notice was not designed to advise parents of their children’s asylum rights, let alone to waive those rights. It was about the right to reunify. The complete absence of any mention of the children’s asylum rights on any of the forms at issue here dooms defendants’ waiver argument,” Sabraw found.
While the judge found the public interest in granting the stay on deportations outweighed the government’s interest in executing removal orders for the parents he noted that “the court is not directing that the doors be opened to illegal aliens with no right to be in this country.”
“Rather, the court is upholding the rights provided to all persons under the United States Constitution, rights that are particularly important to minor children seeking refuge through asylum, and rights that have been specifically recognized by the president’s executive order in the particular circumstances of this case,” Sabraw wrote.
A status conference in the case is scheduled for Friday afternoon.