(CN) – The top U.S. border official said Monday that immigrant families crossing the border would not be referred for prosecution until the Justice Department comes up with a way to do so without separating children from their parents – just hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisted the prosecutions would continue unabated.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan told reporters gathered at a detention center in McAllen, Texas, that families crossing the Mexican border would be quickly released on condition they return for a court date. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not have enough space to house immigrant families together, though that may change: Defense officials told The Associated Press that the Trump administration had chosen two military bases in Texas to hold detained refugees.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to agree with McAleenan in comments made Monday. In light of President Donald Trump’s executive order last week that banned separating immigrant children from their parents, Sanders said the government does not have the space to keep all families who cross the border together.
But in a speech to school resource officers in Reno, Sessions said MS-13 gang members bring kids over the border and use them smuggle drugs. Continuing widespread prosecution under the zero-tolerance policy is imperative and abandoning the practice “would encourage – and has already – more adults to bring more children illegally on a dangerous journey that puts these children at great risk,” Sessions said.
Trump, meanwhile, advocated for stripping immigrants of all due process rights by deporting them without so much as a hearing.
“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Sunday. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”
That tweet was the subject of a federal judge’s questions at a hearing Monday morning in Portland, Oregon.
“What am I to make of that?” U.S. District Judge Michael Simon asked the government’s lawyer in a case where immigrant advocates say the government has refused to allow them to meet with 121 asylum-seeking men detained in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.
The government lawyer told the judge Trump’s tweet was “a matter of personal opinion,” not policy.
Still, Simon issued a temporary restraining order forcing the government to allow the pro bono attorneys to meet with their clients.
And in Seattle, three Central America women filed a class action against the federal government Monday, claiming its policy of family separation threatens their kids with “irreparable psychological damage.”
Ibis Guzman, Blanca Orantes and Yolany Padilla say they entered the United States to seek asylum. But instead of interviewing each woman to determine whether they had a “credible fear” to present to an immigration judge, the government took the women’s young sons and transferred the women to a detention center in Washington state.
Matt Adams with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is representing the women.
Each woman says she fled to the United States with their sons – Guzman has a five-year-old boy, Orantes has a son who is eight, and Padilla’s boy is six. The women say the government hasn’t let them visit or even see their kids for over a month and won’t even say when they will be reunited.
The women say they are suing on behalf of the dozens of asylum-seeking parents detained in Washington state whose kids have been taken by the government.
“Forced separation from parents causes severe trauma to children, especially those who are already traumatized and are fleeing persecution in their home countries,” the lawsuit says. “Such forced separation is also deeply damaging to parents, many of whom have little to no information regarding the well-being of their children and fear that they may never see them again.”
The women claim family separation is totally unnecessary since the government can either detain families together or release them on a bond or under supervision pending their asylum claims.
They want a declaration that the separation from their kids illegal and an order to reunite them with their kids, either under release or together in a detention facility. They also want the government ordered to immediately hold credible fear interviews for all detainees in Washington state who have not yet had one.
And in related news, a federal judge in San Francisco on Monday denied the Department of Homeland Security’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s decision to revoke temporary protected status for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said he would issue a reasoned opinion later, but found he has jurisdiction to hear claims that the decision to revoke temporary protected status was motivated by Trump’s “racial animus.”