SAN DIEGO — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit today seeking to reunite an asylum-seeking mother and her 7-year-old daughter fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, only to be forcibly torn from each other in the U.S. and detained separately 2,000 miles apart.
Reports arose in December that the Trump administration was considering a new plan to separate border-crossing parents from their children as a way to scare others from seeking refuge in the U.S.
“The Trump administration is using this little girl and her mother as pawns in its draconian public policy experiment,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Not only is it horrific to rip this child from her mother, there is no legal justification for it.”
The lawsuit cites violations of the Constitution’s due process clause, federal law protecting asylum seekers, and the government’s own directive to release asylum seekers.
Fearing death in the Congo, plaintiff “Ms. L” escaped with her daughter, eventually arriving at a port of entry near San Diego. The mom was given a screening interview with an asylum officer, who determined that her fear of persecution in her home country was credible and that she had a significant possibility of receiving full asylum following immigration proceedings.
Despite that determination, she has been locked away in the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego, while her daughter was sent halfway across the country to a facility in Chicago. When the officers separated them, “Ms. L” could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother.
The girl has now sat traumatized and alone — 2,000 miles from her mother — for nearly four months.
Leading child welfare organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and medical professionals have publicly denounced the forced separation of children from their parents. In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last month, they wrote: “We fear these actions will have significant and long-lasting consequences for the safety, health, development, and well-being of children, and urgently request that the Administration reverse course on any policies that would separate families.”
The case, Ms. L v. ICE, was filed in federal district court in San Diego. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security are among the named defendants.
The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties is co-counsel with the ACLU.
The complaint is at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/ms-l-v-ice-complaint
More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/ms-l-v-ice