A federal judge tossed the Trump administration’s attempt to allow the government to hold illegal immigrant families for longer than 20 days in detention, ruling Monday that the government failed to make a serious case.
Judge Dolly M. Gee, who in 2015 set the 20-day standard for children who tried to sneak into the U.S. with their parents, said she saw no reason to alter that ruling.
Her decision is a major blow to President Trump, who had specifically requested she update the ruling, known as the Flores settlement, in his family separations executive order last month.
The government argues that Judge Gee’s ruling created a “loophole” in the law, giving illegal immigrant families more lenient treatment. That, they said, created the surge of families that began to stream across the border in recent years.
Judge Gee refused the blame.
“Any number of other factors could have caused the increase in illegal border crossings, including civil strife, economic degradation, and fear of death in the migrants’ home countries,” she wrote in an order Monday evening.
She also blamed the government for waiting three years from her 2015 ruling before asking for updates, saying if it was such a pressing matter they would have come to her sooner.
The Flores Settlement has bedeviled the government for years.
The Obama administration had fought Judge Gee, arguing her ruling would lead to children being abducted by adult illegal immigrants seeking to portray themselves as families to get more lenient treatment.
That has in fact occurred, according to statistics Homeland Security has shared with The Washington Times.
The Flores settlement, first reached in 1997, set out strict standards of care for children who showed up at the border without parents.
In 2015 Judge Gee updated the ruling, saying it also applied to children who showed up with parents.
Since children must be released, and under previous rulings and federal law they are usually released to parents, the government says it must release the entire family. That, they said, is the family “loophole.”
The government first tried to combat the loophole with its zero tolerance policy of jailing illegal immigrant adults who jumped the border. Since the federal criminal justice system can’t accommodate families, more than 2,000 children were separated from those adults.
Public pressure and a judge’s ruling forced the administration to retreat on that policy, leaving Mr. Trump to say families should be held together in the immigration system instead. That system does have thousands of beds for families.
But the Flores settlement is an impediment.
Mr. Trump has asked Congress to revisit the ruling and allow longer detention, but in the meantime had hoped Judge Gee would reconsider.
Late Monday the Justice Department said it disagreed with Judge Gee’s decision, saying there is evidence it had helped feed the new surge of illegal immigrants.
Still, department spokesman Devin O’Malley said Judge Gee did confirm the government has the legal right to hold illegal immigrant parents in detention — even if it means separating them from their children.
“The Justice Department continues to review the ruling,” Mr. O’Malley said.