Family Separation at the Border Is Over, for Now

A San Diego judge ended family separation for 8 years.

Children taken into custody sit in cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas in June 2018.U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector/AP

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On Friday, a federal judge in San Diego approved a settlement that prohibits the separation of migrant families for crossing the border illegally. The settlement was the result of a 2018 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union to block the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which separated more than 5,000 children from their parents, with no plan to reunite them.

“It does represent, in my view, one of the most shameful chapters in the history of our country,” said Judge Dana M. Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee, before approving the settlement. Some families were separated for months or years. Sixty-eight children who were separated from their parents under the policy have yet to be located, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. 

Under the settlement, illegally crossing the border will not be grounds for family separation for the next eight years—a move that would block Trump from resurrecting the policy if he’s reelected. Children may be separated from their families under limited circumstances, including when the adult poses a threat to the child or to national security. The settlement also makes available certain kinds of aid to families who were separated under the policy. They may apply for work permits and humanitarian protection, as well as assistance with housing, medical care, and counseling. Those who were deported under the policy may apply to come back and their immigration records will be cleared.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said the settlement reflects efforts to address “the prior Administration’s cruel and inhumane policy, and our steadfast adherence to our nation’s most dearly held values.”

The Trump administration eventually halted the separations after the policy sparked international outcry, but the former president defended the policy as recently as last month. “It stopped people from coming by the hundreds of thousands,” he told Univision. “When you hear that you’re going to be separated from your family, you don’t come.” 

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