Judge Bans Separating Illegal Immigrant Families at US Southern Border for 8 Years

The judge said the separation of families ’represents one of the most shameful chapters in the history of our country.’
Judge Bans Separating Illegal Immigrant Families at US Southern Border for 8 Years
Illegal immigrants wait to enter a shelter at the Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 17, 2022. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

A federal judge on Friday ruled to ban the separation of families at the U.S. southwest border for the next eight years, except in certain cases, approving the settlement of a years-long Trump-era lawsuit.

The decision comes as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2018, addressing the separation of families entering the country illegally as family units at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw approved the settlement, saying that the separation of thousands of families “represents one of the most shameful chapters in the history of our country.”
Under the settlement, which takes effect on Dec. 11, agencies can still separate children from the adults accompanying them under certain circumstances, such as suspected abuse, national security, medical emergencies, and certain criminal warrants. This practice predates the Trump administration’s separation policy, and previous rulings in the case have noted that children have been removed from adults traveling with them on these grounds.

Notably, the policy is set to preemptively prevent a similar policy from being brought back during a potential second Trump administration.

According to the terms of the settlement, which was initially released in October before receiving court approval, it covers parents or legal guardians and their children who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border between Jan. 20, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021.

Exclusions apply to parents with specified criminal histories and individuals separated after June 26, 2018, due to medical conditions, concerns about parental fitness, or active warrants for the adult.

Around 4,500 to 5,000 children and their parents fall under the coverage of the settlement. The U.S. government is obligated to identify and reunify more families, offering a pathway for them to seek asylum in the United States.

Families affected by the policy will receive non-monetary assistance, including healthcare, housing, and legal support. They will also have access to an expedited asylum process and the ability to receive three years of humanitarian parole.

Some of these benefits are temporary and tailored toward the reunification process.

Importantly, the government is prohibited from enacting a similar zero-tolerance policy over the next eight years until December 2031.

Judge Sabraw cited an ACLU statement, declaring that no settlement in the court’s history has been more important than this one. The policy, implemented in 2017 and 2018, resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their families.

In June 2018, soon after President Trump ended the policy via executive order, Judge Sabraw ordered an end to separations, prompting a chaotic effort to reunite children with their parents within 30 days. The lack of organized records led to difficulties in confirming the reunification of over 1,000 children with their parents, as per recent government data.

Speaking from the bench, Judge Sabraw recalled his sense of horror at the initial allegations and his dismay at how separations were carried out in 2017 and 2018. Reading from an earlier order in the 7-year-long case, he said the practice was “brutal, offensive, and fails to comply with traditional notions of fair play and decency.”

The judge noted that it was “simply cruel” that parents were deported without knowing where their children were.

The ACLU reported that 68 children remain unaccounted for, a fact that the judge described as his “greatest fear and concern.”

President Trump, who is seeking reelection in 2024, defended the policy last month, telling Univision that it “stopped people from coming by the hundreds of thousands.”

“When you hear that you’re going to be separated from your family, you don’t come. When you think you’re going to come into the United States with your family, you come,” President Trump said.

He has indicated that a new Trump administration would address the crisis at the southern U.S. border through mass deportations and the construction of a robust border wall.

The lawsuit, filed in 2018, secured a nationwide injunction against the policy, demanding the administration reunify children with their parents within 30 days—an order that faced challenges due to a lack of organized records.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney in the lawsuit, said the settlement is a “critical step toward closing one of the darkest chapters of the Trump administration.”

The Epoch Times has contacted the Trump campaign for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.