Immigrant rights lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to halt one of the Obama administration’s key actions to stem the surge of illegal immigrant families coming across the border, accusing the Homeland Security Department of running an unconstitutional “deportation mill.”
The groups say the new detention facility the administration opened in Artesia, New Mexico, to hold mothers and their children is too isolated and is set up to speed deportations at the expense of the illegal immigrants’ constitutional due process rights.
The immigrant rights groups say those kept at the remote facility have a tough time getting lawyers, understanding their cases and winning their claims that they are fleeing persecution in their home countries and thus deserve asylum.
“Asylum officers and immigration judges rush them to answer questions regarding the violence, death threats and sexual abuse they fear — all while their children are listening,” the lawyers said. “Their children are ordered removed without being individually screened to determine whether they have a separate basis for fearing persecution; and their claims are denied for failing to properly respond to questions about their asylum claims phrased in complicated legal terminology.”
The challenge marks the latest push back from President Obama’s left flank as he tries to gain a handle on the surge.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency running the Artesia facility, said in a statement it doesn’t comment on lawsuits but defended its treatment of detainees.
“The interagency response to this unprecedented surge has been both humane and lawful,” the agency said.
The government has allowed volunteer lawyers to have access to the Artesia facility. Residents who want to see a lawyer may request a meeting by placing a notice in a mailbox in their dormitory. The lawyers then schedule an appointment.
ICE also said its own lawyers are in contact with the volunteer attorneys, and they work out any access issues.
Administration officials have argued the facility in Artesia, which houses hundreds of illegal immigrants, is one reason why the flow of Central American families or children traveling without parents dropped in July.
Before Artesia, the government had fewer than 100 beds to hold the tens of thousands of women with their children. That meant most were processed and released into the country, where they quickly disappeared into the shadows, acting as an incentive for others to follow their footsteps.
With the beds at Artesia, the administration was able to keep more illegal immigrants in custody, which ensured they would be deported. And the time it took to finalize deportations dropped significantly, officials said.
The site has not been without problems. A chicken pox outbreak earlier this summer had temporarily halted all transfers, meaning nobody new could be sent in, and nobody could be deported. Deportations resumed Aug. 7, and between then and Aug. 19, 71 immigrants were deported, The Associated Press reported.
Friday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of three mothers who say they fled Central America because of threats of gang violence. In the case of one mother from El Salvador, the lawsuit said a gang tried to force her to become an informant on another gang. When she refused, the first gang gave her 48 hours to flee or else she would be killed.
Another Honduran mother brought her two children to the U.S. after she said her 12-year-old son was being threatened by a gang. The mother said she was afraid to go to the police because she feared they were in league with the gang.