SAN DIEGO, Sept. 14, 2018 – An asylum seeker who remains separated from her four-year-old son and detained in a federal immigration prison nearly six months after immigration officers separated them at the southern border will bring legal action today to demand they be allowed to reunite.
The Salvadoran mother, referred to as “Ms. Q” in the case, was erroneously denied reunification in July, the deadline set by a federal judge in the Ms. L v. ICE class action lawsuit for families to be reunited in the wake of the Trump administration’s disastrous “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting asylum seekers and taking their children.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s unilateral decision to continue to keep Ms. Q separated from her young son, with no opportunity to challenge the decision, shocks the conscience and violates her most basic civil and human rights,” said National Immigrant Justice Center Attorney Kate Melloy Goettel, co-counsel for Ms. Q.
Ms. Q and her son were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers soon after they entered the United States in March 2018 to seek asylum from gang-related threats and severe gender violence. They were first held for a night at a processing station (commonly referred to as a hielera, or “ice box”) and then put in wire cages for two days until they were separated. Since then, DHS has held Ms. Q at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison in Laredo, Texas, while her son has been held in a Department of Health and Human Services shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children 1,400 miles away in Chicago. The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer told the family’s story this week in advance of today’s hearing before federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego.
The U.S. government has deemed Ms. Q “ineligible” to reunify based on an El Salvador arrest warrant. But Ms. Q.’s attorneys are challenging the validity of that warrant.
“DHS simply has no legitimate reason to keep Ms. Q apart from her four-year-old son,” said attorney Michael Galas of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, pro bono co-counsel for Ms. Q. “The vague and unsubstantiated allegations of ‘affiliation’ in a foreign warrant are wholly insufficient to force this mother and child to suffer additional irreparable harm with each day they remain separated.”
Violating Ms. Q’s most basic due process rights, DHS refused for weeks to even produce the warrant, and has since failed to provide any evidence in support of the warrant. Ms. Q has refuted the allegations with an affidavit from an attorney in El Salvador who reviewed the case against her and found absolutely no evidence of criminal activity or gang affiliation. A judge who reviewed evidence submitted by NIJC in July found she was not a danger to the community but nonetheless declined to give her a bond.
Over the course of the family’s separation, Ms. Q has missed her son’s birthday and has had few phone calls with him, some of which were at her own expense and arranged by NIJC. The most recent call arranged by DHS lasted only two minutes. Prolonged detention and separation has taken a toll on both Ms. Q. and her son, who has resumed wearing diapers after having arrived fully potty trained and also is experiencing speech delays. At today’s hearing, Ms. Q will ask the court to examine DHS’s decision to exclude her from the Ms. L class and allow her to reunite with her son.
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org and follow @NIJC.