Lawyers welcome U.S. court order to slow deportations of separated families

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[July 17, 2018]  (Reuters) - Lawyers for immigrant families separated at the border by the U.S. government said a federal judge's order barring rapid deportations until at least next Tuesday would give them breathing room as they struggled for access to clients.

The families had been separated amid a broader crackdown on illegal immigration by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, sparking an international outcry. The president ordered the practice stopped on June 20.

Judge Dana Sabraw sided in Monday's order with the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that parents facing imminent deportation should have a week to decide if they want to leave their children in the United States to pursue asylum separately.

Sabraw asked the government to respond before the next hearing on July 24 in a case brought by the rights' group to challenge the separations. Until then, he halted rapid deportations.

"I think it buys us a little bit of time," Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in a telephone interview. "I am still uncertain we have made contact with all the parents who are detained in our particular region."

His group has secured legal representation for several dozen separated parents sent to government detention centers in Washington state. But even on Monday, he said, he learned of an immigrant mother who had yet to make contact with a lawyer.

"She might have slipped through the cracks," without the judge's order, he said.

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Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration, are shown walking in single file between tents in their compound next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Last month, Sabraw set a July 26 deadline for the government to reunite children who were separated from their parents at the border with Mexico. Many of the immigrants are fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The judge's order on Monday gave lawyers more time to "figure out what reunification is going to mean for our clients," said Beth Krause, a supervising lawyer at the New York-based Legal Aid Society's Immigrant Youth Project. Some mothers may decide to turn down reunification if it meant their child could win asylum in the United States, even if they themselves are deported, she said.

To that end, the Legal Aid Society filed a related lawsuit on Monday seeking a court order requiring U.S. immigration officials to give 48 hours notice of planned family reunifications, allowing parents a better chance to consult with lawyers in advance about asylum and other options.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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