In a double whammy to the Trump administration’s troubled efforts to reunite migrant families separated at the border, two federal judges told the US it could not hold children longer than 20 days under terms of a 1997 court settlement, and that it had to speed up reunification of the separated children.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles ruled that the US had no legitimate grounds to alter the 20-year-old settlement, called the Flores Agreement, which created limits on how long immigrant children may be detained.
Gee told the government Monday it would be a “fundamental and material breach” of the agreement to allow the administration to hold children indefinitely, as it requested.
“Absolutely nothing prevents defendants from reconsidering their current blanket policy of family detention and reinstating prosecutorial discretion,” Gee wrote.
The Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy aimed to prosecute every migrant who crossed the border, whether they came legitimately seeking asylum or crossed without going to a legal port of entry.
The policy resulted in separation of parents and children who crossed the border together but could not be jailed together. Nearly 3,000 children were held in prison-like detention in cyclone-fenced cages. Others were sent to facilities thousands of miles away, at least 102 of them under the age of five.
Not only did the administration face a 20-day limit imposed by the Flores case, but it also was hit with an order two weeks ago by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego to reunite children under five with parents in two weeks and those over five in 30 days.
By the July 10 deadline to reunite the youngest children, it became clear the government would not meet that deadline, angering Sabraw, who ordered the US to streamline its unification screening and called for an additional hearing on Friday.