Saying that the practice is “brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency,” a California federal judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit can go forward challenging the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents who are seeking asylum. One of the plaintiffs in the case is a Brazilian woman who was reunited with her son in El Paso on Tuesday and was featured on our site. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, of San Diego, handed down the ruling in a lawsuit filed by two plaintiffs known in the court filing as “Ms. L” and “Ms. C.” Ms. C is the woman named Jocelyn, who was reunited with her son on Tuesday and who allowed me to witness the reunion. Her attorneys have asked that her full name not be used.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in February, seeks to have the separation of families during the asylum process declared illegal. The Justice Department sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but Sabraw ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs could move forward with the case. He also ruled against the plaintiffs, saying that they had failed to cite specific claims under federal law, but he gave them permission to amend the lawsuit to make such claims. Sabraw was appointed to the federal bench in 2003 by Republican President George W. Bush. “For Plaintiffs, the government actors responsible for the ‘care and custody’ of migrant children have, in fact, become their persecutors. This is even more problematic given Plaintiffs’ allegations and assertions that there is a government practice, and possibly a forthcoming policy, to separate parents from their minor children in an effort to deter others from coming to the United States,” Sabraw wrote. “This alleged practice is being implemented even when parents like Ms. L. and Ms. C. have passed credible fear interviews, and therefore, are positioned to present asylum claims meriting consideration by an (immigration judge) in their removal proceedings. These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child. … Such conduct, if true, as it is assumed to be on the present motion, is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.”
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, hailed the ruling. “This is an enormous ruling rejecting the government’s attempt to insulate its brutal separation policy from constitutional scrutiny,” he said. The Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jocelyn, 31, was arrested in August 2017 after entering the country illegally near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, just west of El Paso. She asked for asylum, claiming she and her son were fleeing her violent ex-husband. Jocelyn was charged with entry without inspection, a misdemeanor, during what the Trump administration would later say was a pilot test for the “zero tolerance” approach to illegal immigration that became a national policy in May. Her 14-year-old son, James, was separated from her and sent to a shelter in Chicago run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. She would not see her son for another ten months and learn that federal officials, without her permission, had begun to medicate him for emotional issues.
Jocelyn pleaded guilty in September 2017 after being jailed for 27 days, and was sentenced to time served. She was then was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and held in detention facilities while her asylum claim was pending. She was granted bond on April 9 and has been staying at the Annunciation House shelter in El Paso. For reasons that aren’t clear, it took the government almost two months to return her son to her custody.
The other plaintiff in the case, Ms. L., fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo with her six-year-old daughter. She arrived in the United States in November at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California and asked for asylum, claiming that as a Christian she would face religious persecution if returned to her home country. ICE took her daughter away and sent her to the Chicago shelter. Her daughter was returned to Ms. L. a few days after the ACLU filed the lawsuit on her behalf in February.