Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “The facts about Trump’s policy of separating families at the border” by the Washington Post without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s policy that has forced the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents along the southwestern border.
Stein also sent a letter to the Homeland Security secretary asking for a list of any parents or children being housed in North Carolina because of this policy and the facilities where they are placed if that is the case.
“Like millions of North Carolinians, I watched in horror as the Trump Administration stripped thousands of children away from their parents,” Stein said in a statement announcing the legal action.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
The Democrat took the legal action with 17 other Democratic attorneys general from Washington, Massachusetts, California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
It is the first legal challenge by states over the issue.
But the lawsuit comes as cases brought on behalf of individual parents await in court. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a judge presiding over one of those lawsuits to block the Trump administration from any further separations and order the reunification of families within 30 days.
The attorneys general noted President Donald Trump’s executive order last week to halt the family separations, but added that his order does not address the reunification of families nor does it address when any of the changes will be made.
“The executive order the president signed was slapdash just like the policy,” Stein said in a telephone interview.
Furthermore, Trump has acknowledged that to implement his policy that shifts the separation of children from families seeking asylum would require the modification of a longstanding agreement in a court case. Under that decree, children are not to be detained for more than 20 days.
The attention on the southern border arises over a policy shift this spring by the Trump administration.
Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of children and families have fled to the United States seeking asylum because of rampant violence and gang activity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. U.S. laws provide asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants, but Trump and others in his administration say smugglers, gang members and others are exploiting the laws to get into the United States.
With the uptick in border crossings, the Trump administration imposed a “zero-tolerance” policy in the spring and detained immigrants caught crossing into the country outside specific points of entry.
In March and April of 2018, the number of families from Latin America apprehended at the southwestern border increased dramatically, going from 5,475 in February to 8,873 in March to 9,653 in April, according to the lawsuit filed by the Democratic attorneys general.
The lawsuit contends the Trump administration has violated the families’ constitutional right to due process by separating them without any finding that the parent poses a threat to the children.
They also argue that the policy violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection by targeting only people crossing the southern border without taking similar actions against people crossing the northern border or entering the country elsewhere.
The states also argue that the policy violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is arbitrary and capricious and violates U.S. asylum laws by turning people away at ports of entry.
“No law or court decision requires such separation,” the lawsuit contends.
The attorneys general say the Trump administration has “chosen to adopt the Policy as part of their ‘zero tolerance’ or ‘100 percent prosecution’ approach to individuals who enter the country unlawfully, irrespective of circumstances, and to then use such misdemeanor criminal charges to detain parents indefinitely in federal facilities that cannot accommodate families.”
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson led the lawsuit and described it as part of a broader campaign by state attorneys general to act as front lines of resistance to some of the Trump administration initiatives.
“This case, like all our cases against this Administration, says something important about who we are as a people,” Ferguson said. “We will stand up for the Constitution, basic decency and fundamental American values.”
Stein described the border separations as “un-American” and “inhumane.”
The 128-page lawsuit filed Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Seattle outlines why the states say they were compelled to act.
“The Policy, and the Trump Administration’s subsequent attempt to shield their facilities from state licensing standards, is an affront to States’ sovereign interests in enforcing their laws governing minimum standards of care for children, declaring the family unit to be a fundamental resource of American life that should be nurtured, and requiring the preservation of the parent-child relationship unless the child’s right to basic nurture, health, or safety is jeopardized,” the attorneys general contend..