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Federal judge bars separating migrant families for 8 years

A federal judge on Friday blocked the federal government from separating families solely as part of border enforcement policy for the next eight years, stopping any potential return to the short-lived zero tolerance policy of 2018.

The decision came as part of a settlement between families who were separated during that period and the Justice Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented the families, celebrated the decision made by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, the same judge who first blocked the policy.

“While this settlement alone can’t fix the unfathomable damage done to these children, it does provide hope and support that didn’t exist before, Lee Gelernt, a spokesperson and litigator for the ACLU, said in a statement. “But there remains enormous work ahead to implement this settlement, including reuniting the hundreds of children who are still separated from their loved ones after all these years.”

“No family should be forced to go through this nightmare and tragedy ever again,” he added.

Though the exact number of children and families affected is not known, it’s estimated that the settlement will cover between 4,500 and 5,000 children.

The deal will allow families who were subjected to the policy to seek work authorization in the United States, and to receive certain housing, legal and medical benefits.

It also forces the federal government to continue reunification efforts, and to open avenues for affected families to request asylum.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials will be barred from executing family separations for eight years, except in specific circumstances outlined by the settlement.

Exceptions include national security or public safety risks; a parent or guardian’s participation in other law enforcement operations in such a way that threatens the safety of the child; if the parent or guardian presents a threat to the child, hospitalizations, and warrants outstanding against the parents or guardians.

Officials will also be allowed to separate families when the parents or guardians are charged with a felony, unless the charge is related to immigration. CBP is also barred from referring parents for prosecution for immigration-related offenses unless the child is traveling with another guardian.

The protections in the settlement agreement will not apply to parents or guardians who are apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the interior of the United States.

The settlement also forces federal officials to keep a database of any families who are separated, in an attempt to prevent the chaos that ensued after the Trump administration enforced its zero-tolerance policy.

That chaos has continued into the Biden administration, as officials have struggled to enumerate, find and reunite all the families affected by the policy.

“This settlement is a critical step toward closing one of the darkest chapters of the Trump administration,” Gelernt said. “Babies and toddlers were literally ripped from their parents’ arms under this horrific practice. Thousands of families were torn apart.”

Source: The Hill

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