Three Central Americans detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum are suing the federal government over its now-reversed policy of separating them from their young children.
The lawsuit, filed by lawyers with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid on Wednesday, argues the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant youth from their parents — which the president pulled back on Wednesday under intense national pressure — was "designed, intended and administered as a means of deterring all immigration, even legal immigration by those with a right to seek asylum." The parents are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reunite them with their children and rule that the U.S. government violated their constitutional rights.
"This is punishment, it interferes with family integrity, and it interferes with access to courts, all of which our Constitution's Fifth Amendment does not allow," the lawsuit states. "Families naturally experience forced separation as torture and they urge this Court to stop it."
The parents suing the federal government are from Guatemala and Honduras and are housed in three different immigration detention centers throughout Texas — the El Paso Processing Center, the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos and the South Texas Family Residential Center near Dilley. The three parents had a total of five children separated from them after crossing the border; the kids range in age from 2 to 13.
It's unclear whether or how the children will be united with their parents in light of Trump’s Wednesday announcement.
Early in the afternoon, the president signed an executive order reversing procedures that have sent more than 2,000 immigrant children to facilities separate from their parents. His "zero tolerance" immigration policy — which asserts that all adult immigrants caught crossing the border will be prosecuted — will remain in place, and it’s still unclear how families will be kept intact without sending kids to jail alongside their parents.
“We hope that the children are reunited with their parents at the soonest possible time,” said Jerome Wesevich, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Every minute that passes is intense anguish for these parents and their kids."
U.S. officials previously determined that one of the families in the lawsuit had a credible fear of returning to their home country, but sent the children — including a 2-year-old — to New York while the mother stayed detained in Texas, according to the lawsuit.
The mother has not seen her children for more than a month. While she is occasionally allowed to talk to them on the phone, she has only heard her 2-year-old's voice through cries, the lawsuit states.