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September 24, 2018

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Laxalt’s office reviewing family separations lawsuit

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Wade Vandervort

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt speaks during a primary eve campaign event, Monday, Jun 11, 2018.

A lawsuit filed by more than a dozen Democratic attorneys general against the Trump administration’s family separation policy is under review in Nevada.

The state is not part of the lawsuit to challenge the family separations. President Donald Trump walked back the policy in an executive order that experts say is mired in legal issues and fails to reunite the thousands of children who were impacted.

Officials with Attorney General Adam Laxalt said that his office was not asked to join the lawsuit and that they are in the process of reviewing the 120-page complaint. Laxalt’s office has not provided answers over the past week to questions about when that review will be complete and whether Laxalt plans to release an opinion on the lawsuit.

Virtually every immigration action that the government has taken so far has led to some type of legal challenge, said UNLV Immigration Clinic Fellow Mayra Salinas-Menjivar.

Those cases are making their way through the courts, with one recent ruling in an ACLU case temporarily blocking the Trump administration’s detention of asylum seekers.

“Every immigration action he has taken has had a backlash from the perspective of the community,” said Salinas-Menjivar, who is the clinic’s only fellow in a yearlong pilot program that offers university staff, students and family members free legal help and representation. “They’re doing things that are making the community really uncomfortable, and people are just fighting to retain humanity in the system.”

Trump’s executive order ending the family separation policy essentially asks the courts to relitigate a past California case that limited how long immigrant children could be kept in custody, Salinas-Menjivar said. The case and subsequent clarifications say kids can’t be kept in custody longer than 20 days, but keeping families in detention together, as the executive order calls for, could mean they’re in detention for years while their immigration cases are resolved, she said.

“They’re looking for these children to be under detention for an indefinite number of years,” Salinas-Menjivar said. “The executive order can be implemented, if they put children back together with their parents and release them. There’s really no requirement that they have to keep parents in detention, it just isn’t required. It is absolutely discretionary for them to release parents.”

Trump has also called for using military bases to house immigration detainees who are caught under the federal government’s new zero-tolerance policy for prosecuting those crossing the border illegally. Laxalt’s office has not answered whether there are legal questions about the federal government’s use of military bases for immigration enforcement.

The federal government’s short-lived policy separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their families, and it’s unclear how or when they will all be reunited.

Trump has attempted to reduce the number of immigrants in temporary programs that provide deportation protection, moving to end temporary protected status for certain nations, such as El Salvador, and seeking to close down the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The administration is also planning to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which immigration activists worry will lead to undercounting and a loss of federal dollars tied to population. All three moves have led to lawsuits, with judges allowing DACA renewal applications while that case is decided.

Republican leaders in Congress have been unable to rally enough support to pass an immigration solution that would help young people brought to the country as children. Trump and conservative Republicans have taken hard-line stances on issues like appropriating billions for border wall construction before they will agree to an immigration bill.

Some experts say it’s unlikely that lawmakers in D.C. will pass an immigration bill in an election year, especially after a bout of failed immigration votes in the House. Activists say the administration is attempting to force the passage of conservative reform by creating an immigration crisis.

The clinic is using a university-matched $40,000 grant from NextGen, a group funded by major Democratic donor Tom Steyer, to run the pilot program. Salinas-Menjivar, who has been with the immigration clinic for a year, said the next 12 months will help officials gauge demand for this type of legal help. Students, staff and their families can contact the UNLV Immigration Clinic to pursue services.

Salinas-Menjivar said the hope is that offering legal help to students, staff and their families will enable them better focus on academics.

“Being a pilot program, we don’t really know what to expect,” Salinas-Menjivar said. “We’re hoping that for at least now, one fellowship position will be enough, but we know that in this Valley the immigration issues aren’t going away.”