The American Civil Liberties Union argued in a Thursday court filing that the U.S. government should be forced to allow undocumented parents who were separated from their children and then deported to Central America back into the United States.
If the parents can’t seek legal relief in the United States, the ACLU told the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, they might be permanently separated from their kids.
The attorneys representing a group of deported parents contend in their motion that Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied their clients a fair shot at asylum by manipulating the traumatized parents into signing deportation forms after separating them from their kids.
According to the ACLU filing, one father was pushed by immigration officials to sign papers in English, a language he can’t read or understand, and then deported without his son. Another father was allegedly told that if he pursued asylum, he would have to spend two years in detention separated from his 8-year-old child. Some allegedly never received hearings on whether they had a “credible fear” of persecution or torture back home ― the first step in the asylum process ― or were told that returning to their home country was the only way to see their children again.
“These are parents who were coerced or misled into giving up their asylum rights,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney on the ACLU’s family separation case. “They are in serious danger in their home countries and their only opportunity to reunify with their children is in the United States.”
ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
The Trump administration has deported 471 parents under a zero-tolerance policy enacted in May, without first giving them the chance to reunite with the children taken from them by U.S. authorities.
Immigrant rights group tracked down these families over the course of roughly six months, a dangerous process that often involved trekking to remote, gang-infested regions of Central America to determine whether parents wanted their children to stay in the U.S. or be sent back to their home countries. The majority opted to leave their kids in the U.S. because their lives would be in danger back home.
And now, the only way these mothers and fathers can see their children again is by returning to the U.S.
In December, after screening hundreds of deported parents, the ACLU submitted affidavits on behalf of 51, asking the government to allow them to apply for legal status, under the terms outlined in last year’s settlement of multiple family separation cases. But in February, the government rejected all the applications. The ACLU resubmitted a few affidavits with more detailed information, but those were also denied.
Since then, the ACLU said, 30 of those 51 parents have crossed the border with the help of immigration lawyers and passed their credible-fear interviews. The civil liberties group said their success proves that the government should not have rejected the applications in the first place and that the rest of the parents have viable asylum claims, too.
But immigrant rights advocates told HuffPost that, without the promise of temporary entry, it’s too costly and risky for the remaining 21 parents ― or more if their number grows after additional screenings ― to cross the border with lawyers or make the trip on their own.
The ACLU filing asks a federal judge to guarantee that these asylum-seekers will be allowed to enter the U.S. and be given a fair chance at legal relief.
Since the government separated these parents from their children and deported them without due process, the government has an obligation to let them back into the country, said Carol Anne Donohoe, a senior attorney at Al Otro Lado, a legal aid organization that works in California and Mexico.
“They should be compensating for their egregious separating and deporting of desperate families,” said Donohoe. “This is lifelong trauma for the parents.”