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Report: Pennsylvania to join other states in lawsuit over family separations

Gene Johnson
Associated Press

SEATAC, Wash. – Washington, California, Pennsylvania and at least eight other states are planning to sue the Trump administration over its separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the president’s executive order halting the practice is riddled with caveats and fails to reunite parents and children who have already been torn apart.

Emily Knobbe, center, holds up a sign during a demonstration opposed to the White House policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents over the past several weeks in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson made the announcement Thursday outside a federal prison in the city of SeaTac, south of Seattle, where about 200 immigration detainees had been transferred.

They include dozens of women separated from their children under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all migrants caught illegally entering the country.

“This is a rogue, cruel and unconstitutional policy,” Ferguson said. “We’re going to put a stop to it.”

Immigration authorities have separated about 2,300 children from their parents under the policy over the last several weeks, prompting global outrage as images and recordings of weeping children emerged.

More: House rejects hard-right immigration bill, baring GOP divide

After falsely blaming Democrats for the separations and insisting that only Congress could fix it, President Donald Trump on Wednesday issued an executive order designed to end the practice.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center, and Solicitor General Noah Purcell look on at a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a policy of separating immigrant families illegally entering the United States, in front of the Federal Detention Center Thursday, June 21, 2018, in SeaTac, Wash. Ferguson made the announcement outside the federal prison south of Seattle, where about 200 immigration detainees have been transferred — including dozens of women separated from their children under the administration's "zero tolerance" policy. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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The order does nothing to reunite those already separated and might require families to remain in custody together longer than allowed under legal precedent, Inslee and Ferguson said. Both Democrats, they accused the administration of denying the parents and children due process; denying the immigrants, many of whom are fleeing gang threats and violence in Central America, their right to seek asylum; and being arbitrary in the application of the policy.

More: Governors pull National Guard over immigration policy

Confusion reigned Thursday about whether the administration intended to continue criminally prosecuting all illegal border crossers.

More: ‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

Trump did not directly answer a question to that effect, instead saying: “We have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don’t do it, you will be inundated with people and you really won’t have a country.”

The uncertainty is part of the reason legal action remains necessary, Inslee and Ferguson said.

“No one knows what this administration is doing today because they don’t know what they’re doing today,” Inslee said. “These people could not run a two-car funeral.”

Ferguson has filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration, most notably he successfully sued to block Trump’s initial travel ban against several mostly Muslim countries.

A police officer stands guard while children hide their faces as they are escorted as they leave the Cayuga Centers facility, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he learned on Wednesday that hundreds of migrant children separated from their parents by federal immigration officials are being cared for in the facility. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

He had planned to sue over the family separations in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Thursday, but his office had to rework the complaint after the executive order was issued. It was expected to be filed within a few business days.

Ferguson said that in addition to California, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania would join the lawsuit. New York announced a separate challenge.

All those states have Democratic attorneys general. Washington, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York have Democratic governors.

“Children belong with their families, not alone and fearful in metal cages,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a written statement. “We are filing this lawsuit because ripping children from their parents is unlawful, wrong and heartless.”

A U.S. judge in San Diego is already considering whether to issue a nationwide injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union that would order the administration to reunite the separated children with their parents.

Ferguson said his legal team spent much of Wednesday interviewing women who remain in custody after being separated from their children. Some still haven’t spoken with their children or don’t know where they are.

Darwin Micheal Mejia, third from right, and his mother, Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, right, are escorted to a news conference after their reunion at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Friday, June 22, 2018, in Linthicum, Md. The Justice Department agreed to release Mejia-Mejia's son after she sued the U.S. government in order to be reunited following their separation at the U.S. border. She has filed for political asylum in the U.S. following a trek from Guatemala. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

About 35 of the mothers were transferred this week to the Northwest Detention Center, a privately run immigration jail in Tacoma.

In addition, Ferguson said, his office has so far identified nine children who have been placed in transitional housing in Washington. The state suspects there are more whom officials don’t yet know about.