Last week, Democratic attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, arguing that its family separation policy violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fifth Amendment. Now, in a new filing, they’re asking the federal government to provide more immediate information and access to those detained under the policy on an “expedited schedule.”
The motion filed Monday came with more than 900 pages of declarations that included personal testimonies from parents, children and other family members who were directly impacted by the Trump policy. It also included declarations from the state attorneys general offices, elected representatives, advocates and child and immigration experts who have dealt with families separated at the border.
Trump signed an executive order on June 20, halting the separation practice and ordering families to be detained together instead. But in a statement, the attorneys general criticized the administration’s response. “Hundreds of separated parents are in federal custody and the Administration can move them to other facilities at any time without notice,” they said in the statement.
The PBS NewsHour reached out to the federal agencies involved in the separation of families at the border — the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — for a response. All said they were unable to comment on ongoing litigation. The Department of Justice also declined to comment.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday the agency was prepared to reunite separated children with their parents, and would prioritize children under age 5 starting next week. But Azar, speaking to reporters, said families that have been reunited could still experience long stays in detention.
It’s unclear how the lawsuit filed by the attorneys general would impact the administration’s efforts to reunify separated families.
The NewsHour read through all 99 declarations and pulled 12 that offer a window into what’s has been happening under the family separation policy.
What parents say
“(My son) is not the same since we were reunited. I thought that, because he is so young he would not be traumatized by this experience, but he does not separate from me. He cries when he does not see me. That behavior is not normal. In El Salvador he would stay with his dad or my sister and not cry. Now he cries for fear of being alone.”
— Olivia Caceres was separated from her 1-year-old son in November at a legal point of entry. The boy’s father, who was seeking asylum, remains detained, Caceres said. It took three months for Caceres to get her son back from government custody. According to her testimony, she said that after reuniting with her toddler, “he continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go. When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.”
“They told me to sign a consent form to take my daughter, but that it did not matter whether or not I signed, because they were going to take her either way.”
— Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia was apprehended and separated from her 7-year-old daughter in May. She hasn’t seen her since. She said officers at the border told her she would never see her daughter again, and that she had “‘endangered’ her by bringing her here,” she wrote. “I cannot express the pain and fear I felt at that point,” she wrote. Gonzalez-Garcia said she has spoken by phone to her daughter, who is currently in a shelter and said that she had been hit by a boy, was bruised and had gotten sick there.
“…One of the officers asked me, “In Guatemala do they celebrate Mother’s Day?” When I answered yes he said, “then Happy Mother’s Day” because the next Sunday was Mother’s Day. I lowered my head so that my daughter would not see the tears forming in my eyes. That particular act of cruelty astonished me then as it does now. I could not understand why they hated me so much, or wanted to hurt me so much,” she wrote as part of her statement. [Continue reading…]