Judge Sides with ACLU, Adds More Separated Migrant Families to Lawsuit

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

A federal judge has again agreed with the ACLU in a class-action lawsuit seeking to force the Trump administration to track down and reunite the thousands of migrant families who were forcibly separated under the “zero tolerance” policy.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw added the families to the lawsuit, which had generated a prior order for the government to reunite approximately 2,800 separated migrant children. The new ruling responds to a January report by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services that found that the number of separated families is actually much higher than previously acknowledged.

That report noted that “thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the Court, and HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children.”


The judge stopped short of ordering the government to track down the additional families, The Washington Post reported.

The Trump administration had been separating migrant families since at least July 2017, USA Today reported, which was several months before then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo ordering “zero tolerance” to be implemented in April 2018.


Judge Sabraw, from the Southern District of California, ordered a halt to the “zero tolerance” policy in June 2018, following an ACLU lawsuit. The same month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order officially ending his administration’s migrant family separation policy.

In his latest ruling, Judge Sabraw, a Republican appointee, remained highly critical of the administration. “The hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its people and those within its borders,” he wrote.


Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, responded to the ruling by stating, “The court made clear that potentially thousands of children’s lives are at stake and that the Trump administration cannot simply ignore the devastation it has caused.”


Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has fought the ACLU’s request to have the additional families included in the lawsuit. Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services argued that it lacked the resources to conduct such a review.

As USA Today reported:

Department of Justice attorney Scott Stewart said during a recent court hearing that the administration had gone “above and beyond” to respond to the court’s initial order to reunite the original 2,800 separated families, and that it did so without challenging every decision Sabraw has made in the past eight months. But Stewart warned the judge that if he approved the ACLU request, he would “blow the case into some other galaxy” and Justice would be forced to change course.


In other words, they can’t be bothered. Luckily, the judge was unsympathetic to that argument, the newspaper said. “It’s important to recognize that we’re talking about human beings,” he replied.