A Mother and Child Fled the Congo, Only to Be Cruelly Separated by the US Government

On Nov. 1, 2017, Ms. L. and her 7-year-old daughter, S.S., arrived at a United States port of entry near San Diego and presented themselves to border agents. Ms. L. had fled with her child from their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ms. L. left in fear for her life. Now, the pair was finally in the United States, seeking asylum in a country where they thought they would be safe.

Approximately four days later, Ms. L.’s young daughter was taken from her without any explanation or justification. When the officers separated them, Ms. L. could hear her daughter in the next room screaming that she did not want to be taken away from her mother. No one explained why her daughter was being taken away, where she was being taken, or when she would see her child again. More than 3 1/2 months later, Ms. L. remains at a detention center in the San Diego area, while her daughter is detained in Chicago, halfway across the country, without her mother or anyone else she knows.

Today the ACLU filed suit on behalf of Ms. L. and her daughter S.S. to secure their immediate release, or at least reunite them in a family detention center. Our suit argues that the separation of Ms. L. and her daughter is in blatant violation of the due process protections of the Fifth Amendment since the two were separated without justification or even a hearing.

In the time that they have been separated, Ms. L. has only been able to speak to her child a handful of times — always by phone, not video. In those calls, the young girl cries. She’s scared because she doesn’t know what will happen to her and her mother. Ms. L. tries to stay strong for her daughter, but, in reality, the stress and uncertainty of the situation have taken a huge toll on her as well. She struggles to eat and sleep, and she suffers from depression.

The government has no legitimate interest in separating Ms. L. from her daughter since there’s been no evidence, or even accusation, of abuse or neglect. Instead, there is overwhelming medical evidence that the separation of a young child from her parent will have a devastating, and possibly permanent, negative impact on the child’s well-being.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently denounced the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their parents, noting that: “The psychological distress, anxiety, and depression associated with separation from a parent would follow the children well after the immediate period of separation — even after the eventual reunification with a parent or other family.” Every day that this girl is separated from her mother causes her greater psychological harm, all of which can lead to permanent emotional trauma.

Because Ms. L. passed the initial asylum screening, which established that she had a “credible fear” of returning to the Congo, she and her child are eligible for release. But, even if there were some legitimate reason that the two couldn’t be released, Ms. L. and her daughter could be reunited in a family detention center. Instead, in flagrant disregard of the Constitution and common sense, the government has separated a young child from her mother.

It is a disgrace that a mother and child fleeing for their lives should be subjected to the trauma of separation by the very government from which they seek asylum. This cruelty must not go on any longer. Ms. L. and her daughter should be reunited at once. The Constitution and basic human decency demand it. 

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Anonymous

The military branches do require servicemembers to prepare Family Care Plans in the event the SM is deployed. Apples and oranges. C'mon, stick to the topic. Don't hijack this family's plight for your own agenda.

Anonymous

Doesn't the parent, in this case, agree to a time of separation with their child? This parent didn't make that choice.

Anonymous

I would be interested in finding out how Ms. L. arrived in San Diego from Africa which I believe is closer to the east coast of the U.S. Also, I would be interested in finding out who sponsored their trip to America and if this sponsor is assisting them.

Anonymous

Does it fk matter who sponsored them. Bet if was your child which I'm assuming is white you wouldn't say they

Jane Elise

Those are interesting questions, but I don’t see that they have any bearing on the separation of a young child from her mother.

Anonymous

I don't see how any of that makes a difference. The only reason to separate them is if the mother was beating the child.

Hope Anderson

The way I heard it, the mother was not beating the girl, but trying to give her F.G.M.

Anonymous

It COUD matter who sponsored them because it COULD be a way to help them. I would be willing to help them if I knew how. I live close to Chicago. I'd LOVE to help somehow. Is there ANY WAY? This is the WHOLE REASON I came to the ACLU webpage today.

Anonymous

@ACLU:
What can we do to put pressure on ICE to reunite them, or better yet, release them to a shelter that can get them the services they need?
Do you know of other instances of this happening?

I have personally met several Congolese who have fled to the US to seek asylum. They come here because they believe that we are a country where human rights are respected, unlike their home country.

Tara

Hi -
I came to this article to ask the same thing. As a mother, this is absolutely horrifying. As an American, this is beyond disgusting; we are a country of immigrants and we must continue to show respect and human rights to those who come to our country fleeing desperate situations elsewhere. I would like to know what we can do to bring additional pressure to get this mother back with her child. I cannot imagine the horror she has already endured fleeing for her life with her daughter (it had to be pretty awful to flee everyone and everything you know), and then to have her daughter taken from her in a place where she thought she would be safe...when did we become a country that allows such abuses?

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