Liberal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Immigration Council filed a lawsuit against the government Friday, arguing that the Obama administration’s recently adopted expedited deportation procedures are unconstitutional.
The case centers on woman and children deported from a detention facility in Artesia, N.M., an isolated center housing over 500 people detained along the southwest United States border. The center has already been accused of keeping immigrants in unsanitary conditions, and earlier this summer had to halt all deportations because of a chicken pox outbreak.
“This loss of due process is a recurring theme in Artesia,” wrote Sarah Perez, an immigration attorney who visited the facility in July. Perez said that in addition to being hours away from any attorneys, the facility made it very difficult for lawyers to speak with detainees once there, and that phone calls are limited to five minutes. (RELATED: Boehner Blasts Obama On Incoherent Migration Policy)
“We created flyers to let the detainees know that they have the right to an attorney, and that there are pro bono attorneys ready to consult with them,” she said. “In the morning we handed them out, but in the afternoon detainees told us that they’d been told that if they were caught with the flyers, they would be in trouble.”
Not everyone agrees with Perez’s assessment–according to talk radio host David Webb, “full medical care is provided free of charge as well as other personal amenities for daily life” and that “immigration judges and attorneys have been flown in to accommodate every legal need.” He did not name his source, but wrote that “source provided first hand access to this information and is fully vetted.” (RELATED: Dem Politician Says Grant Illegals Amnesty Or They’ll Become Terrorists)
“Families detained at Artesia are almost completely cut off from communications with the outside world, provided insufficient information and in some cases no information about their rights under the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act], affirmatively precluded from effectively contacting and receiving assistance from attorneys and ultimately forced to navigate pro se [on their own] a complex immigration process that is heavily weighted against them,” argues the suit.
The INA, first implemented in 1952, grants that “any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States…irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.” The suit also holds that the Artesia deportations violate the due process clause of the 5th Amendment.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, over 60,000 families have been detained so far this year, many of whom were immediately released into the United States with an order to report back to immigration authorities at a later date. The Artesia facility opened in June to more effectively process the detainees, and has already deported hundreds of people. (RELATED: Feds Ask Churches To House Migrant Families)
The suit complains that “rather than adjudicate these cases individually based on the actual facts presented at a fair asylum interview, the government has categorically prejudged the claims of these Central American women and children, and decided—in advance—that these cases are not meritorious and that these women and children must be deported.” The suit also points out that deportation rates at Artesia are significantly higher than at other facilities, calling this evidence of injustice: “the passage rate for the Artesia families is 37.8 percent, compared with the nationwide average grant rate of 77 percent under the preexisting procedures.” (RELATED: Border Crisis Is Spiking Asylum Claims To 40,000 By Fall)
The groups’ complaints center on two major issues: that the government has decided to “to limit the number of Central American women and children who are granted asylum regardless of the individual merits of their claims,” and that “even if the adjudicators at Artesia were applying the correct substantive legal standard for credible fear determinations, the government has created a series of procedural obstacles that make it significantly more difficult for applicants to present their cases.”
They take issue with officials like Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for saying “Our message is clear to those who try to illegally cross our borders: you will be sent back home.” Such statements indicate total disregard for the asylum process, they argue, and show that the administration’s current policy does nothing to prevent persecuted individuals from being sent back into harm’s way–in some cases, to their deaths.
The suit cites a recent LA Times article claiming that “at least five, perhaps as many as 10, of the 42 children slain here [in Honduras] since February had been recently deported from the U.S.”
The ACLU and AIC are joined by the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and the National Immigration Law Center in suing on behalf of ten anonymous detainees–four adult women and three minors–who the suit argues came to the U.S. fleeing persecution in El Salvador and Honduras.
“These women and children sought refuge in the United States after enduring the brutal murders of their loved ones, rapes, death threats, and other atrocities,” said NIPNLP Staff Attorney Trina Realmuto. “Over the last several weeks we have collected evidence that shows the government is disregarding our laws, and pushing mothers and children through a deportation mill.”