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Congolese Migrant Can Sue To Stop Family Separation In Immigration Jails, Judge Rules

REUTERS/Mike Blake

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent

A federal judge in California will allow a Congolese migrant’s lawsuit challenging the federal government’s practice of separating families for immigration detention to proceed.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw of San Diego issued the ruling late Wednesday, finding the policy may violate the Constitution. The decision is not a ruling on the merits of the dispute.

“In the most forceful language, the court rejected the Trump administration’s claim that the Constitution permits it to engage in the inhumane practice of tearing little children away from their parents,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the America Civil Liberties Union’s immigrants’ rights project. The ACLU organized the lawsuit and serves as counsel for the lead plaintiff, a Congolese immigrant identified in court papers as “Ms. L” who arrived in the United States with her 6-year-old daughter on Nov. 1, 2017.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asked the court to dismiss the case on procedural and jurisdictional grounds. They also argued the separation of families for immigrant detention does not violate federal statutes or the Constitution. (RELATED: Supremes Lift Decision Ordering Trump Administration To Facilitate Abortions For Illegals)

Sabraw agreed that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently alleged violations of two federal laws: the Asylum Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. She dismissed the procedural and jurisdictional arguments, however, and agreed the policy may violate the Constitution.

The judge explained that the right to family integrity is established by the Constitution’s due process guarantees. That right applies in Ms. L’s circumstances, Sabraw found, because she is lawfully seeking asylum.

The court also agreed that the government conduct alleged is so outrageous it “shocks the conscience.”

“Such conduct, if true, as it is assumed to be on the present motion, is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency,” he wrote. “At a minimum, the facts alleged are sufficient to show the government conduct at issue ‘shocks the conscience’ and violates plaintiffs’ constitutional right to family integrity.”

The ACLU is also seeking an injunction enjoining the policy and class action certification, which would allow similarly situated migrants to obtain relief through the suit. Action on those motions is expected in the coming weeks.

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