According to Press TV, the US Justice Department said Friday that a ruling this week by a federal judge in San Diego, California, requiring the government to reunify families separated at the border means authorities can legally keep families detained until their cases are complete.
The interpretation means immigrant families could spend months or even years in detention – even those seeking asylum – because of a years-long backlog in immigration court.
The Justice Department has previously said that cases in which immigrants are kept in custody move through the system quicker than if they are released.
“The Trump Administration has been engaged – since January of 2017 -in restoring order to the lawlessness at the Southwest border and protecting our nation’s citizens, but we are beholden to a broken immigration system that Congress has refused to fix and that courts have exacerbated,” the department said in a news release.
The Flores agreement is a long-standing guide as to how and how long the government can detain immigrant children. It stems from a lawsuit filed in 1985 by an immigrant girl, Jenny Lisette Flores, who was detained by immigration authorities in poor conditions and who was not allowed to be released to an aunt.
The Flores agreement requires the government to release children from immigration detention “without unnecessary delay,” which the government has generally interpreted to mean about 20 days.
The administration has long argued that releasing asylum-seekers who cross the border illegally amounts to catch-and-release and results in many not showing up for their court hearings.
In a federal court ruling on Tuesday, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to reunite the children who were separated from their parents within 30 days.
Some 2,000 migrant children were separated from their parents and detained as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that began in early May and sought to prosecute all adults crossing the border without authorization, including those traveling with children.
Heartbreaking images and audio of children separated from their parents and crying for their loved ones while being held in chain-link fence cages have stocked outrage across the political spectrum in the United States and abroad.
Although Trump issued an executive order on June 20 to end the family separations, it contained “loopholes” and did little to fix the problem, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).