Federal Judge Orders Reunification of Separated Families: Significant Challenges for Children and Parents Remain


Late Tuesday evening, a federal judge in California ordered the federal government to reunify the thousands of parents and children forcibly separated by the Trump administration. In a sweeping decision, Judge Dana Sabraw affirmed: “We are a country of laws, and of compassion [and we] have plainly stated our intent to treat refugees with an ordered process, and benevolence, by codifying principles of asylum.” Judge Sabraw’s ruling recognizes parents' and children's fundamental right to be together. But we remain deeply concerned about whether the government will consider children's best interests in implementing the order.

What does the order say?

  • Children under 5 separated by the government must be reunited with their parents within 14 days; the remaining separated children must be reunified within 30 days.
  • All parents must be allowed to speak by phone with their children within 10 days.
  • DHS is now prohibited from separating children from their parents unless there has been a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child.
  • DHS is prohibited from deporting parents without their children unless a parent affirmatively decides to depart without his or her child, for example, if they want their child to continue pursuing asylum or other protection in the U.S.
  • The order does not stop criminal prosecution of parents at the border and it does not prohibit the administration from dramatically expanding family incarceration.  

What happens next?

  • The government may appeal Judge Sabraw’s decision. In the meantime, the government must determine how to reunite the thousands of parents and children separated when there was no system to track the families across federal agencies.
  • We expect the Administration to continue its attacks on protections for immigrant children in the Flores settlement agreement and a 2008 anti-trafficking law (the TVPRA), and to argue—falsely—that these protections mandate the separation of families.
  • In fact, the Flores settlement and the TVPRA require the government to meet children’s basic needs in detention and allow children to remain with family while they go through immigration court proceedings.
  • Repealing Flores or the TVPRA would pave the way for the indefinite detention of families on military bases or in tent cities, and would force children to rush through proceedings and be deported quickly, before they have a fair opportunity to tell their story to a judge. 

How will the Young Center respond?

  • In evaluating any policy or procedure proposed by the government, we will continue to ask: is this in the best interests of children?
  • We will continue fighting for the children to whom we are appointed as independent Child Advocate. For months, we have been locating parents, arranging calls between children and their parents, and ensuring the children are able to make decisions with their parents about what to do next. 
  • We will continue to take on new cases of children who are still separated or who face prolonged and harmful separation from their families.
  • And we’ll continue to respond to the amazing number of people (thousands!) who have offered to serve as volunteer Child Advocates.

Thank you for standing with the Young Center as we continue to respond to this crisis.

Maddie Witters