ACLU wants court to issue order immediately reuniting immigrant families

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Friday will urge a federal district court judge in California to issue an order that forces the Trump administration to immediately reunite migrant children who were separated from their families.

"Now that so much time has gone by, we see how young the children are, how many of them there are, the horrendous trauma they are suffering -- we will be asking the judge to issue an order as soon as he can," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, on a call with reporters.

The request is part of a class action lawsuit the ACLU filed in May challenging the administration's practice of separating families caught crossing the border illegally under its "zero tolerance" policy.

Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to end the practice of separating families, a move that came after international outcry, but ACLU still wants the court to intervene.

In addition to requesting an order that would force the government to reunite families, ACLU said it's asking the court to issue a injunction that blocks the administration from separating families.

Gelernt said there are a loopholes in the executive order that could allow the administration to continue separating families if it determines it's not in the best interest of the child to keep them with their parents.

"On its face, that term best interest is fine, that's a term that child advocacy groups use," he said. "The problem is the difference between how the Trump administration interprets best interest and how the case law and everyone else understands best interest."

Under state law, children can only be separated if a parent is unfit, abusive or neglectful, according to Gelernt.

Judge Dana Sabraw, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, scheduled a status conference in the case for 3 p.m. ET on Friday to discuss with the parties how the president's executive order affects ACLU's request for a nationwide injunction on the family-separation policy.

If the government asks to file additional briefs in the case, Gelernt said ACLU plans to ask the court to make them due no later than Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice asked a federal district court in the Central District of California to modify a settlement in a decades-old lawsuit and subsequent rulings that keep the government from detaining children for more than 20 days.

DOJ says it needs an exemption to the time limit to keep families together, but ACLU said eliminating the provision would be horrible.

"It would allow kids to linger in detention for long, long periods of time," Gelernt said. 

The agreement, known as the "Flores settlement," also requires the government to detain minors in the least-restrictive setting possible and for facilities to meet certain living standards.

All licensed programs have to meet those living standards, but DOJ is asking the court to exclude U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family residential facilities.

Gelernt said the government is trying to get rid of the Flores agreement and all its requirements that ensure children are detained under livable conditions.

"We don't believe children should be detained at all," Gelernt told The Hill in phone interview. "But certainly the government shouldn't be trying to eliminate the requirements that ensures some basic level of humanity."