RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The controversy over the Trump administration's policy - now reversed - to separate migrant families has now shifted to the courts. On Thursday, the Department of Justice asked a federal judge in California to change limits on the government's detention of families. And today, in another courtroom in California, a different federal judge will hear arguments on the fate of more than 2,300 children who've already been separated from their parents. NPR's Richard Gonzales joins us now from California to talk about these legal battles. Hey, Richard.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: The president issued this executive order this week, reversing his policy to separate families. So he's going to keep them together in detention. But that clearly hasn't put an end to this issue, right?
GONZALES: Well, no, not at all. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are two outstanding issues. First, what happens to the children who are sent to shelters for young migrants while their parents were detained separately? The executive order did not say how or when they would be reunited.
The second issue is that the administration appeared to give itself a loophole to resume family separations if, in the government's view, keeping a parent and child together poses a risk to the child's welfare. Here's ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.
LEE GELERNT: We're, in short, going to ask the court to order prompt reunification of that 2,000-plus kids who have already been separated and to issue an injunction laying down standards when the government can separate in the future.
GONZALES: I should add here that we contacted the Justice Department, and it had no comment on this case.
MARTIN: OK. So I understand the ACLU is going to make these arguments related to an existing case. What do we know about it?
GONZALES: Well, all eyes have been on the case the ACLU brought in San Diego against family separations. It involves a Congolese woman who sought asylum at a port of entry near San Diego, and her 7-year-old daughter was whisked away to a youth shelter in Chicago. The mother and daughter were finally reunited four months after being separated, but the ACLU says her due process rights were violated. And it wants a judge to clarify what Trump's executive order means. That judge in this case, Dana Sabraw, a Bush appointee, is holding a conference today to discuss how the case should proceed.
MARTIN: As we also noted, the administration is asking another judge for leeway to carry out the executive order. What can you tell us about that case?
GONZALES: This is a separate court case. It involves what's known as the Flores settlement that basically lays out how long an immigrant minor can be detained and under what conditions. It's been going on for quite a while, since before 1997. In 2015, federal Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles ruled, that under the settlement, children couldn't be detained in jail-like settings for very long. And an appellate court later ruled no more than 20 days.
Now, the government wants to hold minors together with their parents for as long as it takes for their criminal and immigration cases to be heard. And that can often take way longer than 20 days. The administration also wants the families to be housed in facilities that are not state licensed, as is now required by the Flores settlement.
MARTIN: So what happens if the Trump administration doesn't get what it wants from the court?
GONZALES: Many court watchers think the administration won't prevail. Judge Gee is still overseeing the Flores settlement. No one expects her to reverse course now. But the government believes that immigrants come here knowing that can't be detained for more than 20 days and most likely will be released into the U.S. until their court hearings. And the administration wants to detain the families indefinitely until they either win asylum or are deported.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Richard Gonzales for us. Thanks so much.
GONZALES: Thank you.
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