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June 26, 2018

 Miller joins multistate lawsuit challenging Trump administration’s family separation policy

18 attorneys general oppose unconstitutional policy


Des Moines — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joined a multistate lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s policy of forced family separation on the U.S. southern border. A total of 16 other states and the District of Columbia joined the lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. 

Miller argued that the policy harms Iowa’s interests in maintaining families and prohibiting discrimination. “The State of Iowa has a longstanding policy that favors the protection of the family unit,” Miller said in the complaint. “The State of Iowa only separates parents and children in the most exceptional of circumstances because when we do so we ‘inflict a unique deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty interest.’”

The states’ lawsuit alleges the administration has violated the constitutional due process rights of the parents and children by separating them as a matter of course and without any finding that the parent poses a threat to the children. The policy is also irrationally discriminatory, in violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, because it targets only people crossing our southern border, and not anyone crossing the northern border or entering the United States elsewhere. The states also argue that this policy once again violates the Administrative Procedure Act, because it is arbitrary and capricious, and that the administration has been violating U.S. asylum laws by turning people away at ports of entry.


Problems with executive order

Despite President Donald Trump’s previous claims that an executive order could not reverse his family separation policy, on Wednesday he issued an order purporting to do just that. 

Following a close review of the order, the states found two main problems with the executive order: 

First, the order does nothing to reunify families already torn apart by the Trump administration’s policy. 

Second, the order is riddled with so many caveats as to be meaningless. Specifically, the order requires appropriations, although the total amount is unknown, as is the timeline for when or if such an appropriation would happen. It also relies on a federal judge approving a plan to indefinitely detain children, which is unlikely. 

Policy history

On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero tolerance” policy on the United States’ southern border. Instead of making case-specific evaluations of individual cases, respecting due process rights and family integrity, the Trump administration began prosecuting all possible immigration crimes, detaining all accused adults, even those with a legitimate asylum claim. The intended and acknowledged effect of this policy has been the separation of parents and children at the border. 

The Trump administration has been clear that the purpose of the forced separation policy is not to protect children, but rather to deter potential immigrants from coming to the United States.

There is no such “zero tolerance” policy at the northern border, and recent reporting indicates that the Border Patrol tracks only “family unit apprehensions” for immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.  
The effects of this policy have been stark. In March and April of 2018, the number of families from Latin America apprehended at the southern border increased dramatically, from 5,475 in February to 8,873 in March (a 62 percent increase) and 9,653 in April (a 76 percent increase from February). That’s nearly nine times as many compared to March 2017, and more than nine times as many compared to April 2017. 

The complaint notes that states will receive an increasing number of separated immigrant parents and children if the administration carries on its policy. Since 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has placed 980 unaccompanied children with sponsors in Iowa.

In addition to Iowa, the states joining the lawsuit include: Washington, Massachusetts, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia. 

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