By MICHAEL BALSAMO and AMY TAXIN
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Immigrant-rights advocates asked a federal judge to order the release of parents separated from their children at the border, as demonstrators decrying the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown were arrested Tuesday at a rally ahead of a Los Angeles appearance by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The court action was brought by the Los Angeles-based pro bono law firm Public Counsel on behalf of three Central American mothers whose children were taken from them by U.S. authorities in May.
More than 2,000 children in all have been separated from their parents and placed in government-contracted shelters in recent weeks under a now-abandoned Trump administration policy toward families caught illegally crossing the border. Public Counsel demanded that the parents be released and immediately reunited with their children.
"These parents are terrified for their children and want nothing more than to ensure the scarring that this experience has already caused does not continue to inflict irreparable harm," Judy London, a Public Counsel attorney, said in a statement.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Amid an international outcry over the children’s treatment, President Donald Trump last week announced an end to the practice of separating immigrant families.
The Trump administration has instead asked the federal court in Los Angeles to let authorities detain families together for an extended period during immigration proceedings. Under a 1997 court settlement, children must be released from detention as quickly as possible.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that his department still has custody of 2,047 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. That is only six fewer children than the number in HHS custody as of last Wednesday.
On Tuesday, dozens of immigrant-rights activists demonstrated outside the U.S. attorney’s office in downtown Los Angeles. Sessions was scheduled to address the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation at a hotel later in the day.
Protesters carried signs reading, "Free the children!" and "Stop caging families." Demonstrators on sidewalks cheered as clergy members who blocked the street by forming a human chain while chanting, "Kids belong at home, not in cages" were calmly handcuffed by police and led away.
It was not immediately clear how many arrests were made.
"They told us on no uncertain terms they wanted to be arrested," said Deputy Police Chief Robert Arcos. "It was their desire to be arrested, it certainly wasn’t ours."
Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California. Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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