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Immigrant parents who are now trying to get their children back have at least the legal system on their side, as a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite all families within 30 days. But major logistical challenges remain. (June 28th)
AP

WASHINGTON – The Trump government on Friday argued that it has the power to detain migrant children with their parents As long as it takes to solve their immigration cases, a departure from the long-standing practice of releasing minors from prison after 20 days.

In a late-afternoon hearing, the Department of Justice said it would comply with a judge's orders to reunite families that separated as a result of President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy. But the government's lawyers argued that they could hold these families together and remain in compliance with a number of US laws and court decisions.

More than 2,000 migrant children were separated from parents suspected of illegally crossing the border as the Trump government arrested the parents. The international outcry over practice has led the government to find a way to both keep their parents and keep them with their children.

"We understand that the courts have provided that minors arrested with families should not be separated from their parents when it is clear that further detention is appropriate for their parents," Deputy Prosecutor Chad Readler said ,

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Also: What you should know before the Saturday immigration protests

But that also means, said he government should not have to release either the parents or the children within the timeframe of the Flores ruling, a 1997 court ruling that set a 20-day limit on the detention of minors

The prosecution of cases of illegal immigration often takes months to solve. In order to meet the 20-day deadline and keep parents and children together, families would have to be released during the trial.

"The government will not segregate families but will hold families together during immigration proceedings if they are detained between the ports of entry," the Department of Justice told a Californian judge overseeing the Flores settlement.

This ruling requires children to be released "without undue delay". But if they are read in conjunction with a San Diego Judge's verdict this week After agreeing with their parents within 30 days – 14 days if they're 5 years or younger – this delay is necessary, argued the Department of Justice.

And if parents want their children released from custody, they could always agree to separation, the government said.

The filing represents something of a change in the legal strategy for the Trump administration. Trump's executive order last week's amendment to the Flores settlement should allow "extraterrestrial families to stand together throughout the pending criminal proceedings."

So eight days ago, the Justice Department argued that, under current decisions, "it is not possible for US government families to hold together during the duration of their immigration process. It can not be done."

Well, it argues that it can be done under current law – although a modification would be "appropriate".

What has changed? On Tuesday, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump government to reunite families in custody. But he also made it clear that after his decision, "the government would remain free to enforce its criminal and immigration laws and exercise its discretion in matters of release and detention in accordance with the law."

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Contribution: Alan Gomez reported from Miami.

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