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Civil rights groups argue forced separation policy constitutes torture

A Salvadoran mother whose son was taken from her by U.S. immigration officials at the southern U.S. border seven months ago continues to fight for her right to be with her child. Today, she filed a lawsuit in the federal District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has violated the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow her and her son to reunite.

The mother, referred to as “Ms. Q” in the case, was erroneously denied reunification in July in the wake of the Trump administration’s disastrous “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting asylum seekers and taking their children. Last week, a Texas immigration judge refused to acknowledge that the gang-related threats and severe gender violence Ms. Q fled El Salvador to escape warranted asylum protection, but also effectively concluded she is not a danger to the community. While Ms. Q appeals the asylum denial, her wellbeing and that of her son continue to deteriorate as they remain separated. Ms. Q and her son are represented pro bono by attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP; the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC); and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“The government took a three-year-old child from his mother’s arms seven months ago,” said Gibson Dunn attorney Michael Galas, “and has used pretext and confusion in refusing to reunite them ever since. Ms. Q and her son suffer more with each day they remain separated, without any legitimate reason and in violation of the Constitution. We are asking the court to immediately restore what little they have left — their family.”

Ms. Q and her son were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers soon after they entered the United States in March 2018. They were first held at a processing station and then put in wire cages for two days until they were separated. Since then, DHS has detained Ms. Q in two separate immigration jails in Laredo, Texas, while her son has been held in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services at a shelter in Chicago. DHS has deemed Ms. Q “ineligible” to reunify with her son based on an arrest warrant from El Salvador, but has refused to provide any evidence in support of the warrant, including at last week’s immigration court hearing. Ms. Q has refuted the allegations with an affidavit from an attorney in El Salvador who reviewed the case against her and found absolutely no evidence of criminal activity or gang affiliation. A judge who reviewed evidence submitted by NIJC in July found she was not a danger to the community but nonetheless declined to give her a bond. The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer told Ms. Q’s story in September.  Since then, the mother has increasingly suffered the obvious consequences of separation from her child — crippling anxiety attacks and depression — while her now four-year-old son has further regressed in his emotional and physical development.

“The human toll of the Trump administration’s agenda to block access to asylum for families fleeing Central America is becoming devastatingly apparent with each passing day Ms. Q and her son are separated,” said NIJC attorney Kate Melloy Goettel, co-counsel in the case. “There is no way this family will achieve justice as long as Ms. Q is imprisoned and separated from her son.”

“This mother and son fled the risk of torture and death in their home country, only to be met with a U.S. policy of torture — the separation of parents from infant children,” said Center for Constitutional Rights’ Legal Director Baher Azmy. “The Constitution prohibits the administration’s cruel practice of ripping families apart in pursuit of its discriminatory policy of excluding refugees who are fleeing persecution at home. This cruelty is still happening today, with shattering psychological and emotional trauma to families.”

Click here to download the complaint

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The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Follow @NIJC.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is a leading international law firm.  Consistently ranking among the world’s top law firms in industry surveys and major publications, Gibson Dunn is distinctively positioned in today’s global marketplace with more than 1,300 lawyers and 20 offices, including Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Dallas, Denver, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Singapore, and Washington, D.C.  For more information on Gibson Dunn, please visit www.gibsondunn.com.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.