A new complaint filed with the civil rights office at the Department of Homeland Security alleges immigration officials coerced, degraded, threatened and punished parents after taking away their kids earlier this year.
Many parents say they were pressured into giving up their right to reunify with their kids, and some say they were held in degrading conditions and punished with solitary confinement and starvation for raising concerns, according to the complaint. The American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association are asking DHS to investigate.
“Together these practices have resulted in not only the tremendous suffering of children and parents who have been kept apart, detained, and subjected to abusive, inhumane treatment, but also the involuntary, forced return of hundreds of people to grave dangers, including risk of death,” the complaint reads.
Immigration lawyers surveyed 76 mothers in August who were asked to sign a form regarding their rights to get their kids back, after being separated due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, implemented in May. Nearly one-third said ICE officers told them if they didn’t sign, they would never get to see their kids again. Ninety percent of the mothers surveyed said they were not allowed to ask questions about the consequences of signing the form.
The mothers reported degrading conditions in immigration detention. One woman, known in the complaint as D.P., said that after immigration officials took away her 9-year-old daughter, they denied her requests for feminine hygiene products.
“I was also hemorrhaging and bleeding through my pants and was not provided with clothing or feminine hygiene products. I was ashamed and degraded,” the woman told lawyers, according to the complaint.
As punishment for attracting the attention of a visitor to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas, D.P. said she was held in solitary confinement with little food for 10 days. Another woman known as A.E. in the complaint said a guard threatened her and others with solitary confinement as punishment for constant crying.
Many of the women interviewed said that being separated from their children completely derailed their immigration cases. At credible fear interviews — a crucial step in the asylum process in which an immigration officer asks questions to determine whether an immigrant’s fear of returning home is genuine — mothers reported being unable to answer basic questions and instead pleading with officers for information about their kids.
“I could not concentrate on anything else [other than my son] because I was extremely concerned about my son and distraught from being separated from him,” A.E. said.
More than 2,500 parents were separated from their kids as part of the Trump administration’s policy, with many locked up in prison-like facilities hundreds of miles away. More than 550 separated children remain in government custody, and 366 parents remain outside the U.S. because they were deported without their kids, according to the government’s most recent data. Dozens of lawsuits have been brought against the administration for various aspects of the detention and family-separation practices.
Cover: People who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP)