- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Trump administration struggled to respond Wednesday after the federal courts took control of the family separation crisis, ordering a halt to most separations and setting deadlines for reunification.

The ruling late Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw gives the government just 14 days to reunite children under 5 with their parents, and 30 days to connect the rest of the more than 2,000 children who had been separated and were being held in federal Health Department dorms.

The ruling is a near-total victory for immigrant-rights activists and a major setback for the Trump administration, which had begged the courts to keep out of the fast-evolving dispute.

“When children are separated from their parents under these circumstances, the government has an affirmative obligation to track and promptly reunify these family members,” the judge wrote.

Government officials rushed to comply even as the administration pondered whether to appeal, a lawyer told another federal judge in Washington, D.C., where yet another family separation case is playing out.

The Health Department’s office of inspector general also said it will be investigating the dorms the children are held in to make sure they are up to standards.

On Capitol Hill, a Democratic effort to block family separations in law failed in a vote on the House floor, going down to defeat as part of a broader immigration debate.

But both sides expect the issue to return in July.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats offered their own answer to the broader immigration problem, saying solutions must start well to the south of the border.

They proposed a massive new infusion of aid to try to improve conditions in Central America to try to keep people from making the treacherous journey north.

Democrats said people from Central America should be allowed to apply for asylum from their home countries or neighboring nations, so they can get a pipeline to the U.S. without having to cross through Mexico.

And the senators proposed stiffening penalties for violent international gangs, drug cartel leaders and smuggling organizations, hoping to crack down on the violence that the Democrats said is chasing people out of their homes and forcing them to head to the U.S.

“Mr. President, here’s your chance. Join with us. We’d like to do this on a bipartisan basis,” said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

The proposal could be the basis for some agreement, with President Trump also calling for a crackdown on gangs and smugglers — though Democrats said he’ll have to reverse his calls for cutting foreign aid to Central America as part of the deal.

For now, the courts appear to have taken over the role of referee on immigration matters.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Sabraw ordered the government to set up regular calls between parents and children who are separated, and said no parent can be deported unless their children are with them.

Judge Sabraw said the government can still prosecute border-jumpers and can deport immigrants who cross the border illegally, but it cannot do so at the expense of parents’ rights to remain connected to their children.

In an unrelated ruling in New York, a federal judge said children who weren’t part of the family separations but who were also being held in the Health Department facilities must be promptly released when sponsors are found.

The time for release in some facilities had jumped from as little as 30 days under the Obama administration to as much as eight months under President Trump.

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