SAN DIEGO (CN) – Attorneys representing families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border filed an emergency motion to implement a settlement with the federal government late Wednesday, based on claims the government is dragging its feet in conducting asylum interviews so families languishing in detention opt for deportation.
So far, more than 40 detained families have chosen deportation “because they simply could not wait in detention any longer” for the federal government to redo asylum interviews and process their applications, according to the 10-page motion filed by attorneys representing parents and children separated under President Donald Trump’s since-abandoned zero tolerance immigration policy.
“While that kind of result may be optimal from the government’s perspective, it defeats the purpose of this case, the parties’ settlement and this court’s order granting a temporary restraining order. It is completely at odds with this court’s desire for a solution that swiftly resolves plaintiffs’ claims,” the attorneys say.
They claim the “about-face” follows U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw’s preliminary approval earlier this week of a class action settlement allowing separated families to revive asylum claims. The mostly Central American families presented themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border and were separated and denied due process.
During a hearing last month, Sabraw told attorneys for the families and the government they “ought to get moving” with processing the families’ claims for asylum.
But attorneys for the families said Justice Department attorneys emailed them Wednesday to say the government will not begin implementing the settlement until it gets final approval from Sabraw.
A hearing for final approval of the settlement is not scheduled until Nov. 15, meaning families will be detained for another month before the government begins processing their asylum claims.
The families asked Sabraw to order the government to implement the settlement agreement in the meantime.
More than 60 detained parents and kids have been identified by their attorneys as wanting to pursue asylum and their names have been provided to the government. So far, the government has done nothing according to attorneys for the families.
That’s in contrast to a Sept. 20 email from Justice Department attorneys quoted in the motion which stated: “As the government identifies individuals to be processed under the different provisions of the agreement, and starts to move those processes forward, it is important that we know ASAP . . . which parents and children wish to pursue the processes set forth in the agreement, so that there is likewise no unneeded delay in enabling those class members to move forward.”
But the government has apparently not processed asylum claims or started interviewing families in the past month, causing families to “decide enough is enough, and choose to accept removal rather than wait in detention for their asylum claims to be heard,” the families say.
“These families should have received due process when they first crossed the border together months ago. Instead, they suffered intense trauma due to the government’s illegal separation policy, and they are now suffering through months of prolonged, unnecessary detention. Delay will only further the harm the government has already inflicted on these families. Their asylum claims should be heard according to the agreed-to procedures now, not six or more weeks from now,” the families’ attorneys claim.
The government’s contention it will “incur the burdens of the settlement without any of the benefits” by implementing the settlement before final approval doesn’t hold up, according to the families’ attorneys. They noted any class member who opts to pursue the asylum process detailed in the settlement is “bound by the terms of the agreement.”
“The families who already signed the notice and waiver form did so based on the reasonable belief that their interviews would proceed expeditiously – not several weeks from now,” the attorneys say.