SAN DIEGO (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government Monday for separating a Congolese mother and her 7-year-old daughter who came across the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego seeking asylum.
The 39-year-old Catholic mother, identified as “Ms. L.” in the lawsuit, and her young daughter “S.S.” arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego Nov. 1. They told border patrol officers “in the little bit of Spanish they knew” that they were seeking asylum, according to the complaint.
After officers performed an initial screening and interview, Ms. L. was told she and her daughter had “a significant possibility of ultimately receiving asylum” and were given the green light to move on to the next stage of the process.
The family was initially detained for four days in “some sort of motel.” But the mother and 7-year-old have since been detained and separated by thousands of miles, with Ms. L. being held in the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego and S.S. “sent halfway across the country to a facility in Chicago without her mother, or anyone else she knows,” according to the complaint.
“When officers separated them, Ms. L. could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother,” according to the 12-page complaint.
“No one explained to Ms. L. why they were taking her daughter away from her or where her daughter was going or even when she would next see her daughter.”
The lawsuit challenges Homeland Security’s current practice of separating asylum-seeking parents and their young children upon their arrival to the United States. In December, new reports detailed that the Trump administration was considering separating border-crossing parents from children as a way to scare other asylum-seekers from coming to the U.S.
Separating families is apparently a new tactic used by the Trump administration, whereas previous administrations “did not have a practice of forcibly separating fit parents from their young children,” according to the complaint.
The practice was recently denounced by the American Academy of Pediatrics in a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
In the nearly four months they’ve been separated, the mother and daughter have only been able to speak on the phone about six times, according to the complaint.
When the two have talked over the phone, S.S. cries and “worries constantly about how her mother is doing in ‘prison’ and whether she is eating and sleeping properly,” the woman says in her complaint.
“Ms. L. and her daughter have been separated now for nearly 4 months. Seven-year-old S.S. sits all alone in a Chicago facility, frightened and traumatized, crying for her mother and not knowing when she will see her again,” Ms. L. says in her complaint.
Ms. L. seeks to be reunited with her daughter, pointing out there are shelters that house African asylum-seekers and their children while awaiting final adjudication of their asylum cases. At a minimum, Ms. L. says, the family must be detained together at an immigration family detention center and that their separation violates their due process rights.
She also points to “overwhelming medical evidence that the separation of a young child from her parent will have a devastating negative impact on the child’s well-being” and that the damage can be permanent.
Because Ms. L passed her “credible fear” interview, she is eligible for release from detention on parole, which could enable her to be reunited with her daughter. But she claims the San Diego Border Patrol field office “has a policy and practice of refusing to grant parole to detained asylum seekers such as Ms. L, notwithstanding an ICE Parole Directive that specifically favors their release,” according to the complaint.
The complaint was signed by ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties attorney Bardis Vakili.