immigration law

Lawsuit alleges family separation policy wrongfully deprived parents of fair asylum interviews

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Immigrant parents separated from their children according to Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy sued the government on Friday, alleging that the separations hurt their asylum claims.

Vox has a story and plaintiff's firm Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group, has a press release.

Dora v. Sessions alleges that the federal government “pushed” the 29 plaintiffs through credible fear interviews—the first step in an asylum claim—while they were suffering from extreme trauma created by the government taking their children away. That “systematic and unlawful policy” denied them a meaningful opportunity to make their asylum claims, the lawsuit says, and ended with the government ordering expedited removal—deportation without a chance to make their cases in immigration court.

“During their interviews, Plaintiffs were consumed by fear for their children, and could only think about where their children were, whether they were in danger, whether they would see them again and whether they might be forced to leave the country without them,” the complaint says. “Plaintiffs were unable to fully and competently participate in their credible fear interviews.”

Alleging violations of multiple federal laws and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, they request a second chance to claim asylum.

A psychiatrist who interviewed some of the 29 plaintiffs said many were cognitively impaired by acute stress from having their children taken away. Despite the harms they were fleeing—one plaintiff says she left Guatemala because her husband gave her to an MS-13 gang leader as a sex slave—they universally said having their children taken was “the single most vividly horrifying experience of their lives.”

For example, when plaintiff “Dora” spoke to her 7-year-old son for the first time in two weeks, he mentioned that he was being good because an adult at his shelter had threatened to beat any children who cried. She was still crying during her credible fear interview shortly afterward. Plaintiff “Kara” was so distraught to be separated from her daughter that the detention center gave her psychiatric medications, which made her dizzy and confused during her credible fear interview. Plaintiff “Carlos” alleges that an official told him he would be reunited with his son more quickly if he didn’t go before an immigration court for review of his case, so he decided against it.

The lawsuit alleges that by denying parents a meaningful credible fear interview, the federal government also violated the Immigration and Nationality Act’s asylum provisions; and the Rehabilitation Act’s provisions for mental disability. They also allege that by instituting the family separation policy, the federal government acted in a way that was arbitrary, capricious and beyond its statutory authorization, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. They seek new credible fear interviews, to stop their deportations and to prevent the government from interviewing anyone else in their position without accommodations.

Many of the plaintiffs have since been reunited with their children, thanks to a court order in a different lawsuit about family separations, Ms. L v. ICE. The same lawsuit produced a court order preventing deportations of separated families for the moment, but Dora observes that this could change at any time.

Ms. L has also separately alleged that the federal government is telling separated parents that the only way to see their children again is to agree to deportation.

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