A FEDERAL JUDGE, surveying the emotional, administrative and logistical wreckage of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has ripped apart families while traumatizing parents and children, on Tuesday came to the same conclusion reached by millions of Americans who witnessed the chaos: Enough is enough.
In plain language, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw ruled that time is up for the incompetence and haphazard cruelty that have characterized the administration’s helter-skelter practice of sundering families without formulating procedures to reunify them — even when they present legally at a port of entry and with a credible asylum case. That more than 2,000 children, including toddlers, remain apart from their parents is an offense not only against the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law but also against core American values.
“We are a country of laws, and of compassion,” wrote Mr. Sabraw, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. He ordered that immigrant families from now on be detained together and released together. Parents who remain split from their children must be reunified with them within 30 days or, in the case of children under the age of 5, within two weeks. That no-nonsense order should focus the attention of an administration that, despite President Trump’s executive order a week ago ending family separation for the time being, has appeared flummoxed by the task of reuniting children already removed from their parents.
The ruling directly debunked the fiction, peddled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, that the separation of immigrant children from their parents is akin to procedures that apply when U.S. citizens commit crimes. To the contrary, the court explained: While minors who are U.S. citizens may be cared for by a host of social-service agencies, not to mention relatives, immigrant children snatched from their parents are left to a bureaucracy neither designed nor equipped to care for them.
The outrageous result has been on display for all to see in recent days and weeks: children placed hundreds or thousands of miles away from their parents, with no procedures in place for them to communicate with each other, coordinate their immigration or asylum cases, track each other’s whereabouts, or be reunited; in some cases, parent or child has been deported without the other’s knowledge. All that, said Mr. Sabraw, is a departure from “measured and ordered governance,” central to the Constitution’s due-process guarantees.
“The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property,” wrote the judge, noting that immigrants are given receipts for confiscated goods or cash, but not so much as a chit for a wailing child hauled off to who knows where.
The judge’s order is not necessarily the last word. The administration may appeal the order, seeking to retain its option to deploy cruelty as a method of deterrence to future unauthorized immigration.
The enduring feature of such a policy, coupled with its chaotic implementation, is, as the judge remarked, that it “shocks the conscience.” That is a legal standard; it is also a measure of common sense and of what most Americans find tolerable. In the case of dividing and traumatizing parents and children, that threshold has been crossed.