Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joins lawsuit against Trump’s family separation policy

Hundreds marched from the Old Capitol buliding to College Green Park for the Families Belong Together rally. Saturday, June 30, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has joined 16 other state attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration treatment of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Seattle, seeks an immediate injunction to end the “Trump Administration’s practice of refusing entry to asylum applicants who present at Southwestern border ports of entry and its cruel and unlawful policy of forcibly separating families who enter the country along our Southwestern border.” The lawsuit also seeks to force the administration to reunite children currently in U.S. custody with their families.

Last week, the Trump administration told a federal judge that despite a court order to reunite migrant families, more than 900 children won’t be returned to their families, because officials have labeled those families “ineligible” for reunification for various reasons.

As with every other lawsuit brought against the administration by state attorneys general since Donald Trump became president in January 2017, the new filing relies heavily on public statements by Trump and other officials to make its case.

“Defendants have made clear that the purpose of separating families is not to protect children, but rather to create a public spectacle designed to deter potential immigrants from coming to the United States,” the complaint states, before quoting, among others, Counselor to the President Kelly Anne Conway, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump himself. (Even Trump’s Twitter account is cited multiple times.)

In earlier cases defending the Trump policy of separating children from adult asylum seekers at the southern border, administration lawyers have argued the practice is in no way punitive and is not targeted at specific racial or ethnic groups. The complaint, however, offers multiple public statements from officials that indicate the policy is meant punish asylum-seekers from Latin America. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision may limit the effectiveness of this as a legal strategy.

Last month, in a 5-4 decision upholding the third version of the Trump administration’s so-called “Muslim travel ban,” the Supreme Court ruled that public statements by the president and other officials cannot be used to prove a policy has a discriminatory intent if the administration can plausibly show the policy is “neutral on its face.”

The complaint also attempts to make the case that the policy is discriminatory by pointing to the administration’s actions at the U.S.-Canadian border.

In stark contrast to Defendants’ Southwestern border actions, DHS’ updated Northern Border Strategy, announced on June 12, 2018, aims “to facilitate the flow of lawful cross-border trade and travel, and strengthen cross-border community resilience.” Although the Northern Border Strategy is intended, in part, to “safeguard our northern border against terrorist and criminal threats,” the strategy does not demand prosecution and family separation for all unauthorized entrants at the northern border of the United States.

Despite temperatures in the upper 90s, hundreds of people in Iowa City marched on June 30 to protest the family separation policy.

All of the attorneys general who have joined the lawsuit are Democrats. In May, the Republican majority in the Iowa legislature cut the budget for the Iowa Attorney General’s office by $600,000 to punish Miller for his opposition to policies of the Trump administration. It was the second time in two years the legislature has cut Miller’s budget because of his opposition to the Trump administration.

The new lawsuit is the fifth time Miller has taken an official action to oppose a Trump administration policy since his budget was cut in the last legislative session.