On Nov. 1, 2017, Ms. L. and her seven-year-old daughter, S.S., arrived at a United States port of entry near San Diego and presented themselves to border agents. Ms. L. had fled with her child from their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she left in fear for her life. Now, the pair was finally in the United States, seeking asylum in a country where they thought they would be safe.
Approximately four days later, Ms. L.’s young daughter was taken from her without any explanation or justification. When the officers separated them, Ms. L. could hear her daughter in the next room screaming that she did not want to be taken away from her mother. No one explained why her daughter was being taken away, where she was being taken, or when she would see her child again. More than 3 1/2 months later, Ms. L. remains at a detention center in the San Diego area, while her daughter is detained in Chicago, halfway across the country, without her mother or anyone else she knows.
“The separation of Ms. L. and her daughter is in blatant violation of the due process protections of the Fifth Amendment, since the two were separated without justification or even a hearing,” said Jenny Samuels, ACLU representative. “In the time that they have been separated, Ms. L. has only been able to speak to her child by phone a handful of times. In those calls, the frightened young girl cries. Ms. L. tries to stay strong, but the stress and uncertainty of the situation have taken a huge toll on her as well. She struggles to eat and sleep, and she suffers from depression.”
The detention center holding the child looks like a prison. According to a statement by Adelina Pruneda, an ICE spokeswoma, the facility helps to “ensure more timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States.
Separating parents and children is an immigration strategy meant to deter illegal immigrants from entering the US. The policy was proposed by John Kelly in March of 2017, when he was still Department of Homeland Security Director.
The American Association of Pediatrics recently denounced the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their parents, noting that: “The psychological distress, anxiety, and depression associated with separation from a parent would follow the children well after the immediate period of separation, even after the eventual reunification with a parent or other family.”
“Every day that this girl is separated from her mother causes her greater psychological harm, which can lead to permanent emotional trauma,” said Samuels.
According to the ACLU, because Ms. L. passed the initial asylum screening, which established that she had a “credible fear” of returning to the Congo, she and her child are eligible for release on bond.
“But, even if there were some legitimate reason that the two couldn’t be released, Ms. L. and her daughter should be reunited in a family detention center. Instead, in flagrant disregard of the Constitution and common sense, the government has separated a young child from her mother,” said Samuels.
A lawsuit seeking relief has been filed on behalf of Ms. L. and her child by the ACLU.
According to Samuels, “It is a disgrace that a mother and child fleeing for their lives should be subjected to the trauma of separation by the very government from which they seek asylum.”