Judge extends authority to more families separated at border
By ELLIOT SPAGAT
SAN DIEGO (AP) - A federal judge who ordered that more than 2,700 children be reunited with their parents on Friday expanded his authority to potentially thousands more children who were separated at the border earlier during the Trump administration.
Dana Sabraw ruled that his authority applies to any parents who were separated at the border on or after July 1, 2017. Previously his order applied only to parents whose children were in custody on June 26, 2018.
Sabraw said he was responding to a report in January by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's internal watchdog that said thousands more children may have been separated since the summer of 2017. The department's inspector general said the precise number was unknown.
The judge will consider the next steps on March 28. The first move may be to identify the separated families, no easy task because the government didn't have an adequate tracking system at the time.
The administration argued it would be extremely difficult to identify families and that the children would likely be emotionally harmed if they were removed from their current homes.
Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart told the judge last month it would be a "significant burden" to add families and "blow the case into some other galaxy" after the administration had "done all things to correct the wrong."
Sabraw disagreed in his 14-page order.
"The hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its people and those within its borders," he wrote. "That defendants may have to change course and undertake additional effort to address these issues does not render modification of the class definition unfair; it only serves to underscore the unquestionable importance of the effort and why it is necessary (and worthwhile)."
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued over the practice of splitting families, welcomed the decision.
"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," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said.
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