WASHINGTON (AFP) – A federal court ordered the Obama administration Friday to stop detaining mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States, a practice implemented to halt a wave of Central American migrants last summer.
The order by US District Judge James Boasberg in Washington removes a tool President Barack Obama’s administration had used to halt illegal immigration from across its southwestern border.
In his preliminary injunction, Boasberg said that mothers and their young children coming to the United States from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador to escape from violence there had “credible fear” and could thus reasonably hope to obtain asylum.
Since last summer, the Obama administration had placed the migrants in detention, rather than freeing them, while their case was being examined.
Plaintiffs in the case before the federal court, represented by the powerful American Civil Liberties Union, had all crossed the border last year to take refuge in the United States.
But once they were stopped by immigration authorities, they were then held to send a message that the migrants were not welcome.
Boasberg criticised that policy, saying the administration “presented little empirical evidence, moreover, that their detention policy even achieves its only desired effect – ie that it actually deters potential immigrants from Central America”.
Earlier this week, a court froze Obama’s landmark immigration reform that would protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.
The Justice Department plans to file papers Monday to block that ruling.
Obama had used an executive order to bypass a hostile Congress and drive through measures to protect about four million undocumented foreigners from deportation.
The measures had been due to go into effect Wednesday.
Immigration is a hot political issue heading towards the 2016 presidential election, with around 11 million undocumented migrants in the country.
Obama’s executive order would have allowed only some of them to come forward – those who have not committed serious crimes and have children who are American citizens or residents.
Obama has also tried to push more comprehensive immigration reform, which could eventually bring many millions of new voters, many seen as likely fellow Democrats.
The president’s Republican foes have largely opposed Obama’s immigration reform, declaring it an “amnesty” for people who broke the law by entering the country illegally.