Rights groups sue feds over immigrant families

Some of the most important civil, constitutional and immigrants’ rights groups have filed suit to block the practice of “expediting” the deportation of undocumented women and their children. The federal government, the suit alleges, deprives them of their rights and endangers their lives by short-circuiting constitutional guarantees to due process.

 The plaintiffs include the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, and the National Immigration Law Center. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are Van der Hout, Brigagliano and Nightingale, and Jenner and Block.

The suit comes at a moment when there is national debate, sometimes overheated, about some 63,000 unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant minors who have entered the United States since last October.  

With midterm House, Senate and gubernatorial elections in November, Republican Party politicians are trying to take advantage of the situation by spreading scare stories and organizing “NIMBY” (not in my back yard) semi-riots here and there. The “Tea Party” is trying to revive its fortunes by reverting to anti-immigrant and anti-Latino hate speech to go after not only the Democrats, but their rivals within the Republican Party.

Differences have arisen among the Democrats. More progressive Democrats, and those who have many immigrants and Latinos in their districts, are emphasizing the need to defend the rights of minor children, and are criticizing any plan to speed up deportation of those children, who lately come mostly from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Other Democrats fear that this situation might cost them votes in November.

The Obama administration has meanwhile been hurrying up the deportation of undocumented immigrant families while also hinting that at the end of the summer, it will announce new programs to give undocumented families a break, perhaps by expanding the DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals) program it started in late 2012, which to date has benefited over half a million “Dreamers” – young people brought into the country without papers when they were minors.

The urgency of this debate is illustrated from news stories from Central America. A morgue director in San Pedro Sula, the ultra-violent second city in Honduras, told the Los Angeles Times that this year between five and ten minor children who had been recently deported have been murdered by gangs in his city.  

This jibes with statements by the young migrants and their families, as well as many organizations, including the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which have been interviewing people in the area. But it collides with the statements of the Republican right in the United States, who deny that the phenomenon of the migrant children is a humanitarian crisis caused by situations of extreme violence in their countries of origin.

The efforts of the Obama administration to speed up the deportation of undocumented families also collide with the evidence about the families and children fleeing extreme violence. The administration warns that the journey north is dangerous, and says its policies are intended to warn people against trying it. But to “expedite” deportation means hurrying people, including minor s, to a situation of mortal danger.

The suit calls for an end to deportations from the Department of Homeland Security’s family detention unit at Artesia, New Mexico, which the plaintiffs’ brief describes as a “deportation mill”.

Basing itself on numerous reports from families facing deportees and their volunteer lawyers, the brief describes how these families’ rights to a fair hearing on their pleas to be allowed to stay in the United States are systematically undermined. Mothers who have fled with their small children from Central America because of threats of murder against those children and themselves are forced to give their testimony to DHS staff within the hearing of the children, causing them to withhold information that would terrify the children.

Likewise, lawyers have to converse with their clients in earshot of DHS officers, a violation of the norms of even the worst of civil or criminal courtrooms. Artesia is also far from any urban area, making it hard for attorneys or family to keep in contact. Things move at such a pace that neither the detainees nor their lawyers can keep up with important procedural dates. And some of the hearing officers appear to be incompetent or bigoted.

The plaintiffs’ press release quotes Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council: “Fast-tracking the deportations of women and children from immigration detention is an assault on due process. There is no way that justice can be served when so many people are being rushed through the system without any real opportunity to assert claims of relief. What we are seeing in Artesia is nothing less than a sham process that values expediency over justice”.

Photo: Parents and children in front of the White House, July 7, following a news conference of immigrant families and children’s advocates responding to President Obama’s statement on the crisis of unaccompanied children and families illegally entering the United States. A top Obama administration official says no one, not even children trying to escape violent countries, can illegally enter the United States without eventually facing deportation proceedings. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.