A coalition of lawyers filed a lawsuit Friday against federal immigration authorities, claiming detainees fleeing Central American violence and being held at a New Mexico detention center aren't getting proper legal representation.
“These mothers and their children have sought refuge in the United States after fleeing for their lives from threats of death and violence in their home countries,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant Rights Project, adding: “U.S. law guarantees them a fair opportunity to seeks asylum. Yet the government’s policy violates that basic law and core American values — we do not send people who are seeking asylum back into harm’s way.”
The ACLU and three other rights groups announced they had filed the federal lawsuit to get U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to change policies that quickly deport immigrants without attorneys.
The rights groups say a lack of due process for Central American women and children detained in the isolated town of Artesia, New Mexico isn't allowing them to present their cases for asylum. They say the Artesia center has turned into a "deportation mill" because of the barriers in place that stop immigrants from having lawyers.
The plaintiffs include a mother who fled El Salvador with her 10-month old son because of threats from rival gangs. One of the gangs tried to convince the woman to become an informant on the other gang’s activities. When she refused, they told her she and her infant son would be killed unless she left.
“Any mother will do whatever it takes to make sure her children are safe from harm’s way,” said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. “Our plaintiffs are no different: they have fled their homes to protect their children, only to find that the U.S. deportation system is intent upon placing them back in the dangerous situations they left.”
The child migrant crisis is just one facet of a wider immigration dilemma facing President Barack Obama’s administration. In the face of Congressional inaction on the issue, Obama in June announced that he would act on his own before summer’s end to address federal immigration reform. Since then, advocates for the nation’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants have lobbied Obama for deportation relief, which has been met with staunch election-year criticism by Republicans.
Obama is also considering changes to the immigration system requested by the tech industry and powerful interest groups. And the president has instructed Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to present several options for changing deportation policy be the end of summer.
Central American youth have fled violence in their home countries in record numbers, leading to an increase in undocumented minors arriving in the U.S. In the last 10 months, an estimated 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended by U.S. authorizes, mostly along the Texas border.
Some minors who have been deported to their home countries have been killed within days. Several children sent back to Honduras this year have already been killed, a morgue director in San Pedro Sula told The Los Angeles Times.
“At least five, perhaps as many as 10” of the children killed in Honduras since February had been deported from the U.S., Hector Hernandez said. “There are many youngsters who only three days after they’ve been deported are killed, shot by a firearm. They return just to die.”
With wire services