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Federal Court Blocks Government from Detaining Mothers and Children Seeking Asylum

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Last Friday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Obama Administration’s practice of locking up mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States.

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of mothers and children who have fled their home countries facing conditions of extreme fear and violence.  Each had been found by an immigration officer or judge to have a “credible fear” of persecution, meaning there is a “significant possibility” they will be granted asylum.  The plaintiffs included:

  • A mother and son who fled Honduras after years of physical abuse (including rape) at the hands of the son’s father
  • A mother and her two daughters who fled El Salvador to escape abuse from the children’s father
  • A mother who fled El Salvador with her two children after her husband physically abused her and threatened to kill her children

The Department of Homeland Security has been making it a practice to indefinitely detain asylum seekers like the above, sometimes putting them in ice box-like conditions, as part of an “aggressive deterrence strategy” to dissuade future asylum seekers away from the US.  The ACLU, however, was able to demonstrate that credible asylum seekers in the past were released on bond or their own recognizance.  The court rejected the idea that detaining women and children was necessary to prevent a mass influx that would threaten national security, writing that:

incantation of the magic word ‘national security’ without further substantiation is simply not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty…

Such detention harms putative class members in myriad ways, and as various mental health experts have testified, it is particularly harmful to minor children.

As Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a press statement:

The court held that it was illegal to detain families based on deterrence. It made clear that the government cannot deprive individuals of their liberty merely to send a message to others.  This ruling means that the government cannot continue to lock up families without an individualized determination that they pose a danger or flight risk that requires their detention.

A recent Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) analysis covered by Think Progress found that almost all (98.5%) of women with children who had passed their “credible fear” interviews but did not have legal representation in immigration court, were ordered to be deported.

View the injunction below:

Federal Court Blocks Government from Detaining Asylum Seekers as Tactic to Deter Others from Coming to U.S….