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Washington among states to sue over ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy

UPDATED: Thu., June 21, 2018

OLYMPIA – President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order will delay but not prevent a lawsuit from Washington and several other states over the practice of separating families who are detained for allegedly violating immigration laws.

Lawyers from the Washington attorney general’s office were in the final stages of preparing the lawsuit Wednesday after interviewing parents who were in a detention facility in SeaTac when Trump announced he was signing the order.

But after reviewing the order that says families in detention will be kept together, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said it has enough legal problems that a revised lawsuit will be filed in federal court in the Western District of Washington in the next few days.

“It does not apply to the kids who have already been separated,” Ferguson said, standing outside that detention center with Gov. Jay Inslee and representatives of immigrant rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Association.

The executive order relies on appropriations from Congress which may never happen, “irrationally discriminates” because it only applies along the southern border and requires the overturning of a previous court ruling on immigration law, he said.

The policy also does not follow federal laws for changing rules and regulations, something that has helped Ferguson’s office successfully challenge other Trump administration policies, such as the initial restrictions on immigration from some predominantly Muslim countries. It will be the 27th lawsuit the state has filed against a policy or program change by the current administration, he said, and among those that have been decided, the office is 9-0.

Washington will take the lead on the lawsuit, and Ferguson said California, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania would join the lawsuit. New York announced a separate challenge. Other states may join, he added.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the ACLU also plan to file lawsuits on behalf of parents who have been separated from their children.

After interviewing people at the detention center, Ferguson and his staff believe at least 45 parents who have been separated from their children are in Washington, either at the SeaTac facility or a privately run center in Tacoma, while their children are being kept in other states. They also believe at least nine children, some as young as 6 years old, are in foster care in the state but apparently are not related to the adults who have been sent to Washington.

Inslee said Washington was leading the nation in challenging Trump administration policies in the courts. “The United States Constitution is going to outlast and outfight Donald Trump,” he said.

Asked what the administration could do to comply with federal law on immigration, Ferguson replied: “That’s not our job. It’s the president’s job to follow the law.”

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