On the heels of a federal court in California blocking President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families, a federal judge in Washington is giving the government about a week to show it is working in good faith to start the process of putting the split-up families in contact and reunifying them.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman did not grant the temporary restraining order requested by lawyers seeking immediate relief for the three Central American political asylum seekers held in South Texas whose children have been taken away from them — pointing to the Tuesday night federal court ruling demanding all separated families be reunited within 30 days.
Also pointing to that ruling, the Justice Department promised Wednesday to immediately provide the suing migrant parents the addresses where their children are held, the phone numbers of the case managers handling their children’s cases, arrangements for phone calls with their children at least twice a week, and an estimated date of reunification.
“I’m wrestling with whether you satisfy the irreparable harm test” in light of the ruling and the government’s promise to comply, Friedman told the plaintiffs. “I’m having trouble finding the residue of irreparable harm.”
The judge did, however, order the Trump administration and the plaintiffs’ attorney to report back to him in a week on whether the promises are being met. Rather than rejecting the migrant families’ call for a temporary restraining order, Friedman is holding it in abeyance, and made clear in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon that he won’t hesitate to use the legal tool if needed.
“If this system fails, if the case managers don’t act in good faith or if you can’t get the information you need, come back and see me,” he told the immigrant parents’ attorney. “You may find something next week that convinces me.”
Trump administration attorneys promised Friedman that they would immediately put the plaintiffs in contact with government case managers who could give them information about the well-being of their children and an estimated date for the reunification.
Friedman noted, however, that there are “a lot of moving parts” to the situation, including the question of whether the Trump administration will attempt to appeal or modify the California ruling — something Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian could not speak to at Wednesday’s hearing. She did, however, note that an appeal effort would likely take a long time to play out, and the government would likely work towards compliance in the meantime.
Jerome Wesevich, the attorney for the group Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid who is representing the three families, told TPM after the hearing that he hoped the “strong” ruling out of California forces the government to comply with what his lawsuit is seeking: that parents be put in immediate phone contact with their children, receive full reports from the Trump administration about any illnesses or injuries their children may have suffered, and be given an estimated date for reunification.
“The legal landscape has changed dramatically since we pushed the button on this case,” he said. “Thankfully, it’s in the right direction so far. Now, we want to keep the momentum going to fix this problem and end this sad chapter in American history.”
But Wesevich emphasized that, in the meantime, his clients remain “in anguish.”
“Right now, one of my clients is sitting in a blue jumpsuit in a detention center near Port Isabel, Texas,” he said. “He was separated from his daughter on June 4. He hasn’t seen or talked to her. He doesn’t know anything about her wellbeing. The government has no justification for this, because he’s not under any criminal process.”