In Violation of the Constitution, Obama Is Deporting Asylum-Seekers Without Oversight From The Courts

When Liliana fled from her home in Guatemala to the United States with her two young children this March, she did so because she had no other choice.

Liliana had been raped twice by members of a notoriously violent gang: Once when she was washing at the river, and again when gang members broke into her home and raped her and her mother. Both times the gang members threatened that if she tried to report the crimes, they would kill her in front of her three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son and then kill the children too.

These were not empty threats. A year earlier the same men had brutally raped and murdered Liliana's cousin. The family called authorities, but the Guatemalan police, generally unable or unwilling to interfere with gang activities, did not investigate and made no arrests.

Fearing for their lives, Liliana and her children left Guatemala a week after the second attack, making the treacherous journey to the United States to seek asylum. But their ordeal was far from over. Upon their arrival in this country, they were detained at the Karnes County Residential Center, which is, despite its name, a prison. They would remain there for the next two-and-a-half months.

Our immigration laws, on paper, guarantee a fair process for vulnerable individuals like Liliana. People seeking asylum are entitled to a full asylum hearing as long as they can establish, during an initial interview with an asylum officer, a "credible fear" of persecution in their home countries. Liliana and her children should have easily passed this standard based on the unimaginable harms they suffered, but the asylum officer found otherwise. Liliana and her children were told that deportation back to Guatemala — and near certain death — was imminent.

Only after the ACLU and ACLU of Texas filed a lawsuit on the family's behalf did the government give Liliana a new credible fear interview. She passed the new interview and was allowed to proceed with her asylum case. Two weeks ago, she and her children were finally released from detention.

Liliana's struggles with the asylum process are far from unique.

Since last summer, the ACLU has filed six other cases on behalf of Central American refugees fleeing extreme sexual violence and death threats to seek asylum in the United States, only to be detained, determined to have no credible fear, and put into deportation proceedings. In every case, the Obama administration has argued that it can deport asylum-seekers without any oversight or review from the federal courts. This practice deprives asylum-seekers of their constitutional right to challenge their deportation orders in federal court. And in every case, the administration has ultimately reversed course and granted our clients new interviews with asylum officers — effectively acknowledging the flawed nature of the process they had been given. After the new interviews, nearly every one of these clients has had their deportation orders vacated and has been released from detention.

These cases illustrate the inhumanity and unfairness of the Obama administration's treatment of families and adults seeking asylum — treatment that the ACLU is fighting on several fronts.

In addition to representing individuals like Liliana, we recently obtained a ruling from a federal district court enjoining as unconstitutional the government's practice of detaining asylum-seeking families for the sole purpose of deterring others from coming to the United States. We also filed a case last year challenging the government's failure to provide counsel to children in immigration court who are forced to represent themselves in deportation hearings. In addition, our litigation, together with key advocacy efforts, helped to close down a remote family detention facility in New Mexico, just months after we filed suit.

Outrage over the government's unnecessary and unconstitutional family detention policies is gathering momentum. On the heels of the 136 House members who urged Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the detention of families like Liliana's, 33 senators echoed the message in a letter to Secretary Johnson two weeks ago, writing that:

"We do not believe there is any system of mass family detention that will work or is consistent with our moral values and historic commitment to provide safe and humane refuge to those fleeing persecution."

It is time for the government to give vulnerable refugees the meaningful opportunity to apply for asylum that they are entitled to under the law, instead of detaining them and deporting them back to near certain violence, if not death.

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Anonymous

Really, ACLU? I am totally on your side, in particular on this issue. But a little blonde girl, really? Anyone with Google Images can find this, leaving you open to ridicule, which we don't need.

Anonymous

Disagree. We aren't charging them with anything! We aren't punishing them in our criminal justice system. They aren't authorized to be in our country, and are simply being removed.

If Chinese soldiers invaded our country, and we simply detained them and then sent them back to China, it would be the exact same thing. They aren't being charged with anything.

If we charged illegal immigrants with something, or gave them a formal prison sentence, THEN they would have a right to judicial review.

I think the ACLU would need to show how extra judicial review could prevent accidental deportation of actual United States citizens. Otherwise, it doesn't affect us, and of course illegal immigrants still have no particular right to additional judicial review if we aren't charging them with anything. On top of that, the ACLU would really need to show how it is justified to clog up our judicial system with people based solely on the fact that they managed to touch US soil. Is this acceptable? Does this make sense? I'm inclined to say NO, but the ACLU hasn't even made this case anyway.

Anonymous

You do realize that unless you are a native american you to are an immigrant too. We're a country of immigrants. Until the 1870's all you did was hop on a boat and say "I'm gonna live in American" and BAM American citizen.

Anonymous

"Jump on a boat and BAM you're a us citizen." Yeah, that's not close to the truth. After getting off the boat you went through a lengthy vetting process that determined if yiu had family in the US, had money to supper yourself, and if you didn't you had a job lined up so you could support yourself. You were also asked about your health and disease background as well as if you were wanted for crimes in th3 country from whence you came. If you clear those hurdles, there was a waiting period at which then, and only then, BAM were you a US citizen.

Anonymous

Really... Obama is deporting people back to rape and certain death??? Are you sure that has nothing to do with the fact that every time he tries to create a path for immigrants of any kind, conservatives start screaming about terrorists, job loss, crime, etc...

American Patriot

Really, so if you are made to go back to your own country you cant go live with some friends or relatives in another part of the city or another city from where you were living before? Seems like if a mother and child can make their way to the USA ALL THE WAY from Central America they seem to be pretty resourceful and could probably live in another country just fine SOUTH of the USA. And if they go back to their own country and live in another part of their country, First, how will the "Bad Guys" who want to kill them so bad, find them? Do you think the Bad Guys are just searching the whole country for someone they previously raped, NOT. One last thing, ACLU, What does the first letter stand for, Oh yeah, AMERICAN, so why is the ACLU more concerned about ILLEGAL criminals getting into this country than American's rights??

shelleytraz

I think this is about the rights of individuals to seek asylum in the USA. Many of the first colonists here were asylum seekers, e.g. the Mayflower colonists. Look at the message on the Statue of Liberty. If a victim had easy access to an escape from persecution, she would likely take it. However, all your questions about options could be addressed in the course of a fair hearing.
Another issue: that little girl in the picture doesn't look blonde to me, but even if she is, blonde people have rights too. Rights are supposed to be for everyone in the circumstances that the Rights address.

Anonymous

"This practice deprives asylum-seekers of their constitutional right..." Last I checked, the U.S. constitution covers U.S. Citizens. Am I missing something here? Don't get me wrong, I believe that asylum seekers need fair treatment in our systems, but if you are going to make a case for them in a blog, then please make sure your facts are straight.

Jeramee Sikorski

Well said! That's quite a claim, and, though I've tried, I haven't been able to verify it. Could you please indicate where the Constitution discusses asylum seekers? Or, how about a citation to a case that invokes Constitutional protection? Is it possible that my con law class just didn't cover it due to lack of time?

Anonymous

Where exactly in the Constitution does it provide the support for this ACLU stance?

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