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In Latest Victory for Immigrant Rights, Judge Rules Against Trump's Attempt to Tear Up Decades-Old Rule Limiting Child Detention

"President Trump needs to take responsibility for his own misguided policies."

A woman sits with her son at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, shortly after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In the latest ruling against the president's cruel and inhumane border policy, a federal judge slammed the Trump administration's argument for changing a decades-old agreement limiting the amount of time a child can legally be detained by the government, calling the Justice Department's attempt to gain approval for its plan to detain families indefinitely "tortured" and "wholly without merit."

"Defendants seek to light a match to the Flores agreement and ask this court to upend the parties' agreement by judicial fiat," wrote U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee. "It is apparent that defendants' application is a cynical attempt...to shift responsibility to the judiciary for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate."

The Flores settlement agreement was decided in 1997, stipulating that children in immigrant detention centers can be held for no longer than 20 days.

The Trump administration moved to change the rule just after President Donald Trump reluctantly signed an executive order on June 20 to end forcible family separation, after the practice provoked international outcry.

"We cannot allow the administration to continue to push responsibility for the human rights crisis it created in every direction but its own. The administration must be held accountable for the horrors its created, and the zero tolerance policy must end." —Efrén C. Olivares, Texas Civil Rights Project

The government argued that the Flores agreement cannot be followed as it stands because it requires the separation of families, and that families must be held until their immigration hearings take place to ensure that they show up in court.

"The evidentiary record is unclear as to the accuracy of defendants' assertion," wrote Gee. "Even assuming defendants are correct, however, this risk was plainly contemplated by the parties when they executed the Flores agreement in 1997...It does not support a blanket non-release policy or warrant the agreement's modification."

"Sifting through the government's false narrative, the court clearly found that the Flores settlement has never resulted in the separation of families," Peter Schey, an attorney representing detained children, told CBS News. "President Trump needs to take responsibility for his own misguided policies."

"Today's decision reiterates that family detention has never been acceptable," said Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, in a statement. "For weeks, we watched in horror as children have been ripped from their parents, but the remedy for family separation is not, and never will be, holding them indefinitely in detention facilities that are functionally prisons. We've seen today that the courts will not allow indefinite family detention to serve as the solution to this crisis manufactured by the Trump administration."

The decision represents the latest recent victory for immigrant rights advocates who have been fighting Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy and the separation of families. Over the weekend, a federal court denied Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's request for an extension on the deadline to reunite families.

"We cannot allow the administration to continue to push responsibility for the human rights crisis it created in every direction but its own. The administration must be held accountable for the horrors its created, and the zero tolerance policy must end," said Olivares.

The Families Belong Together coalition celebrated Gee's decision and reminded supporters to continue fighting Trump's anti-immigration agenda.

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