A federal judge on Monday (July 16) ordered a temporary freeze on deportations of reunited immigrant families after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested a restraining order due to concerns of imminent mass deportations once families are reunited.
The ACLU called on U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw to halt deportations for at least one week so that parents have time to decide whether they want to leave their children in the United States to pursue asylum.
Sabraw granted the request, giving the federal government until July 23 to outline its objections.
“It’s hard to imagine a more profound or momentous decision,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told reporters, referring to the decision parents must make.
Last month, Sabraw gave the federal government two weeks to reunite some 100 children under age 5 with their parents and one month to reunite roughly 2,500 children age 5 and older. The children were separated from their parents after the Trump administration implemented its “zero tolerance” immigration policy in early May and began criminally prosecuting adults crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Sunday (July 15), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) submitted a new plan to reunite children age 5 to 17 with their parents, after Sabraw blasted the agency for its slow reunification process. Under the new plan, HHS will perform DNA tests only if exhaustive background checks raise questions about parentage. The agency has a July 26 deadline to reunite all children with their parents.
Monday’s halt to deportations came after ACLU lawyers cited “persistent and increasing rumors…that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification.”
The ACLU argued that parents should be given one week to make the difficult decision of returning home with their children or leaving them behind in the U.S. to pursue asylum.
“A one-week stay is a reasonable and appropriate remedy to ensure that the unimaginable trauma these families have suffered does not turn even worse because parents made an uninformed decision about the fate of their child,” the ACLU wrote in court papers filed Monday.
That decision was made more difficult after Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month announced that immigration courts will stop granting asylum to victims of domestic and gang violence, a decision expected to threaten tens of thousands of immigrants seeking protection in the U.S. Immigrants from Mexico and Central American represented 33 percent of asylum grants in 2016.
After Sessions’ announcement, Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice said via Twitter: “Women fleeing violent abuse, young people fleeing murderous gangs and cartels, and people fleeing terrorist groups are being told to go to hell, and to die there.”