The legality of President Donald Trump’s executive order reversing his earlier decision to separate immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border is expected to be decided by an experienced jurist who is a woman.
That could be the best news yet as the national crisis over illegal immigration has moved from the White House to Congress, which continues to wrangle over a legislative fix.
Judge Dolly Gee, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, is no stranger to the issue of immigration — and she is in the spotlight again as the immigration problem gets tossed back to the courts. The Trump administration’s new executive order tries to reverse legal precedent, and its efforts will bring back some familiar faces when Judge Gee gets to review the separation policy.
Back in 2015, the accomplished federal California judge ruled against the Obama administration in a case involving the detention of children and their mothers, not specifically the separation of children from parents, caught crossing the border illegally. She demanded the release of the families and criticized the Department of Homeland Security for what she found to be deplorable conditions at two Texas detention centers housing children.
Family-separation issues are not new to Gee, who has shown herself to be exceedingly child-friendly. She understands well the history of court rulings like the 1997 Flores decision on how to deal with unaccompanied minors who end up in the hands of border agents and the importance of their timely release.
At the heart of this new Trump executive order is a legal challenge to the Flores decision, which emerged out of a case over the role of the federal government in dealing with the arrival of children illegally into the United States. The Flores settlement required that children be placed with a close relation or family friend without delay as opposed to locking them up.
Now Trump wants that decision overturned so that kids and parents can be kept together in detention centers longer without the political pressure of separation. The administration caused this crisis and now it proposes solving it by still warehousing children.
I am glad there is a woman deciding the fate of children who may have little choice but to follow their parents across the border.
Given that it was likely pressure from his wife, Melania, and eldest daughter, Ivanka, that helped force Trump to back down from his “zero tolerance” policy, it is comforting to know that another woman will be at the center of decision-making on the immigration question. I don’t envy her but it is good to know who’s in charge of the kids.
Tara D. Sonenshine served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.