Immigration Law

Federal government sued over alleged due process violations at Artesia immigrant detention center

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Immigrant rights organizations sued the federal government Friday, alleging that the federal government is violating due process rights in its haste to deport immigrant families with small children.

The immigrant plaintiffs, all identified by their initials, are being held at the Artesia, New Mexico, detention center established as an emergency overflow shelter for families—mostly single women—traveling with young children. They’re part of what the government has called the surge of immigrants, including numerous minors, fleeing gang violence in Central America.

In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union said the alleged due process violations were part of “a new strong-arm policy to ensure rapid deportations.”

Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, a defendant, said in July that the Obama administration’s message to Central Americans trying to enter without papers—who may erroneously believe that they’ll be allowed to stay—is “we will send you back.”

But that message comes at too high a price, say the immigrant-rights groups who filed the lawsuit. In violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the complaint (PDF) says, federal authorities have sped up the deportation process and drastically reduced defendants’ rights to information, assistance of pro bono attorneys and contact with the outside world.

The complaint says problems include little or no notice to detainees about their rights, affirmative efforts by federal officers to keep pro bono attorneys from helping, questions from asylum officers in legalese, and requirements that mothers answer questions about murders, rape and other traumatic situations in front of their small children.

Volunteers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which is helping organize pro bono representation in Artesia, say immigration judges won’t let them speak for their clients in hearings or meet with them beforehand. Attorneys were also forbidden recently from bringing computers into the detention facility.

A recent op-ed at Fox News Latino from one volunteer said detainees were getting in trouble for possession of “know your rights” flyers that lawyers had distributed; detainees were mysteriously impossible to find for attorney calls; toys were being taken from children; and attorney-client confidentiality was impossible to maintain under conditions.

As a result, the complaint charges, “women and children with obviously credible claims [to asylum] have been ordered removed to countries where they face danger.” Plaintiffs in the case described death threats from gangs (against the children as well as the mothers), the rape of a young girl and routine beatings from some plaintiffs’ husbands. Nonetheless, none of these plaintiffs were found to have credible fear of persecution at home. The complaint says 37.8 percent of Artesia detainees pass this credible fear determination, as opposed to 77 percent nationally.

The surge is largely made up of immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, all of which have huge amounts of gang violence going uncontrolled by police. A report (PDF) U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said Honduras had the murder rate in the world in 2012, with 90.4 murders per 100,000 residents. The rate in the United States was 4.7 per 100,000.

The Associated Press reported that it sent an email to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman seeking comment on the lawsuit.

In addition to the ACLU, plaintiff organizations include the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

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