The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration for its policy to detain migrant mothers and children fleeing violence from their home countries in Latin America, mostly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Specifically, the ACLU, its Texas and Pennsylvania affiliates as well as the University of Texas Law School's Immigration Clinic, are filing the suit on behalf of women and children who have been found to have strong cases for asylum and credible fear of returning to their home countries. Texas is home to two of the four family detention centers in the United States. We reported on the impact of family detention on asylum-seekers and the concerns that lawyers and immigration advocates have regarding the administration's policy.
"Locking up families and depriving them of their liberty in order to scare others from seeking refuge in the U.S. is inhumane and illegal," said Judy Rabinovitz, the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project deputy director. "The government should not be using these mothers and their children as pawns. They have already been through devastating experiences, and imprisoning them for weeks or months while they await their asylum hearings is unnecessary and traumatizing."
The family detention facility in Karnes, Texas, is designed to hold more than 500 individuals, and the newest and largest facility just opened in Dilley, Texas, will hold up to 2,400.
According to the complaint, the administration's policy of detaining families and then denying bond requests for release violates the Immigration and National Act as well as the Fifth Amendment, which "prohibit the blanket detention of asylum-seekers for purposes of general deterrence." The administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have maintained since this summer that detaining families crossing the southwest border will deter others from making the trip.
Plaintiffs in the case include women and children who have been found to have a credible fear of returning home by an immigration judge or asylum officer, including a mother from El Salvador with two daughters who suffered from abuse by the girls' father. The family has experienced further trauma since being detained, according to the ACLU.
The lead plaintiff in the case, identified as RILR, is also from El Salvador and has two children.
"I worry that every day my family is kept in prison it adds to the trauma that my children feel," she said. "They saw so much violence in El Salvador, and now they are locked up here where they cannot feel safe and get better. I hope that we can be released soon so that I can help them recover from everything they have experienced."
The UT immigration law clinic and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has also filed a complaint against the Karnes Family Residential Center alleging sexual abuse and inappropriate living conditions at the facility. Barbara Hines, who directs the clinic, told me weeks ago that the Office of the Inspector General is investigating that those cases.
Read more about the ACLU lawsuit here.