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A federal judge ordered the White House to immediately work to reunify immigrant families separated under the administration's “zero tolerance” policy, issuing a ruling late Tuesday that calls for government officials to reunify every child within 30 days.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that seeks to block the policy from being reinstated and demands that the government reunify all of the at least 2,000 children who have been separated from their parents under the policy, according to The Hill.
The order allows 30 days for all families to be reunited but says that children under five years old must be reunited with their parents within two weeks.
In the wake of President Donald Trump's executive order designed to stop the separation policy, doubt has swirled about whether the administration is allowed to detain families together with their minor children, which the executive order proposes as an alternative.
The ACLU lawsuit aims to block any attempt to revive the separation policy, and the court order also prevents the deportation of any parents who have not yet been reunited with their children.
Trump issued his executive order amid a massive public outcry over the policy, but human rights organizations argued that the government's plan only halts the program without clearly outlining how families will be reunited.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, called for the court order to ensure that a plan is put in place to bring all immigrant families back together.
“I think it’s a humanitarian crisis of the utmost proportion,” Gelernt said during a conference call about the case last week. “I realize I am almost pleading, but we believe it’s important for you to issue an injunction as early as tonight or this weekend.”
But government attorneys contested the argument of the ACLU, saying that the reunification process is already underway that a court order would complicate current efforts to reunify families, according to The San Diego Tribune.
“This Court should give the agencies time to take action, rather than issuing an injunctive order,” the government's motion argues. “A court imposed process is likely to slow the reunification process and cause confusion and conflicting obligations, rather than speed the process of reunifying families in a safe and efficient manner.”
Sabraw sided with the ACLU in the decision, however, writing that “There was no reunification plan in place, and families have been separated for months.”
Sabraw also noted that the administration retains the authority to prosecute illegal border crossings.
The administration's broader “zero tolerance” policy is also being challenged by a group of attorneys general, who filed a lawsuit against the government over the policy on Tuesday.