Originally published by Politico
Three Central American asylum seekers detained in Texas are suing the Trump administration over its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which forcibly split them apart from their children.
The lawsuit — believed to be the first to challenge the administration’s policy to criminally prosecute all adults suspected of illegally crossing the U.S-Mexico border — adds to the legal woes facing the Trump administration over its immigration policies.
That policy remains in place even as President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that aims to keep children with their detained parents.
The three migrants, who are represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, argue in the suit filed in federal court in Washington D.C., that the administration was separating kids from their parents as a form of punishment, which isn’t allowed under the Constitution. They argue that the policy violates their right to due process under the Fifth Amendment.
A separate case by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging family separations — but not the “zero tolerance” policy — argues that families have the right to remain unified. The group also filed a class-action suit in February in San Diego federal court over family separation of individuals seeking asylum and the judge set a hearing for Thursday to discuss the new White House executive order.
The Texas case, though, goes directly to the Trump administration policy of bringing criminal charges against people for crossing the border illegally.
“The question we raise in our lawsuit is, the fact that you are going to force a family to undergo a one-to-five day criminal prosecution does not give you the right to indefinitely take their children away from them and fly them away thousands of miles away,” said Jerome Wesevich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “What could possibly be the reason for that except to punish them?”
The plaintiffs argue that border agents and detention officials “sadistically tease and taunt parents and children with the prospect of separation, and doing so using words and tones indicating that Defendants’ employees and agents enjoy the pain and suffering that the very idea of separation causes to parents and children.”
The migrants ask to be immediately reunited with their children.
One migrant, known in the complaint by her initials M.G.U., said that she and her three sons aged 2, 6 and 13, fled Guatemala after her family faced death threats. They crossed the border on May 4 and presented themselves to border agents in San Ysidro, Calif. They were transferred to a residential center near Dilley, Texas, where she was told that she and her family had a credible asylum claim, but that her sons would be taken to a shelter in New York while she remained in Texas.
She said that she was told the separation would last a week, but about a month later, she has yet to see her children. She said she speaks to her sons once or twice a week and they express “fear, distress, no understanding of what the future holds.” Her 6-year-old cries during calls and she has only heard her 2-year-old once, according to the complaint.
A Honduran citizen said that he and his 12-year-old daughter fled the country after he was shot in the shoulder and received death threats. They crossed the border into Texas on June 4, were arrested and then taken to a processing center in Brownsville, Texas. Later that day, he was separated from his daughter.
Shortly after, he pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally crossing the border and was sentenced to time served. He is still being detained in Los Fresnos, Texas, but has yet to see or hear from his daughter.
A third defendant said she fled Guatemala with her 9-year-old son after being threatened with violence and crossed the border near Presidio, Texas, on May 14, where they were arrested. She was separated from her son the next day, and on May 18 pleaded not guilty to illegally crossing the border because she said she sought out border patrol agents.
On June 6, a judge found her guilty of crossing the border illegally and sentenced her to time served. She said she is being held in an immigration detention center in Texas, but has yet to see her son who she believes is in New York.
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