By Jonathan Stempel and Doina Chiacu
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday a judge's order directing the Trump administration to rapidly reunify migrant children separated from their parents on the U.S.-Mexico border just showed the need for quick action by Congress on illegal immigration.
In an injunction issued late on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego blocked the administration from separating families at the border, and ordered that those who were separated be reunited within 30 days.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether the administration would appeal. But he said the decision "makes it even more imperative that Congress finally act to give federal law enforcement the ability to simultaneously enforce the law and keep families together."
Amid uproar at home and abroad over the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents, which resulted from his administration's policy of "zero tolerance" toward illegal immigration, President Donald Trump has sought to throw the ball in the court of the Republican-controlled Congress.
The separations occurred after the administration began seeking to prosecute all adults crossing the border without authorization, including those traveling with children, from early May.
Although Trump issued an executive order on June 20 to end the family separations, the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the San Diego case, said it contained "loopholes" and did little to fix the problem. Some 2,000 children remain separated.
Sabraw's preliminary injunction also requires the government to reunite children under the age of five with their parents within 14 days, and to let children talk by phone with their parents within 10 days.
The separations sparked widespread condemnation in the United States, including from within Trump's own Republican Party, and abroad. Sabraw, an appointee of former Republican President George W. Bush, sharply rebuked the administration.
"The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property," he wrote.
"The facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government's own making," he added.
The White House had no immediate comment.
In opposing a preliminary injunction, the government had argued that Trump's executive order "largely" addressed the concerns of the ACLU.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a Senate hearing earlier on Tuesday that most separated children could not be reunited until the Republican-led Congress passed necessary legislation.
Sabraw, whose injunction contained exceptions for when parents were deemed unfit or a danger to their children, said the government rather than families had the "affirmative duty" to pursue reunifications.
He also chastised the government for being unable to keep track of, communicate with, and locate immigrant children.
The ACLU hailed Sabraw's decision as a "complete victory."
"This victory will be bring relief to all the parents and children who thought they may never see each other again," ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said in an email.
After issuing his order last week, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation addressing immigration issues. But disagreements between Republican moderates and conservatives have impeded a speedy legislative fix.
The House, which failed last week to pass an immigration bill favored by conservative Republicans, planned to vote on Wednesday on a broad immigration bill that would bar the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border.
Trump said on Twitter that House Republicans should pass that bill, even though he said Democrats would stop it from passing in the Senate, where Republicans have a slimmer majority.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday he would not rule out a possible vote on a narrower bill addressing only the detention of immigrant families, if the broader bill did not pass.
Echoing the president's frequently strong words on illegal immigration, the Justice Department spokesman said on Wednesday that unless Congress acted, "lawlessness at the border will continue, which will only lead to predictable results — more heroin and fentanyl pushed by Mexican cartels plaguing our communities, a surge in MS-13 gang members, and an increase in the number of human trafficking prosecutions.”
The ACLU had sued on behalf of a mother and her then 6-year-old daughter, who were separated for four months after entering the country to seek asylum and flee religious persecution in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The case is Ms. L et al v U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, No. 18-00428.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Alison Frankel in New York; Yasmeen Abutaleb and Doina Chiacu in Washington, D.C.; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Frances Kerry)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 01:06 AM