Federal courts across the country have ruled repeatedly against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, placing injunctions on the government to halt the forced separation of parents and children, the long-term detention of children by ICE, and the deportation of reunited families. But attorneys and immigrant advocacy groups on the ground say the administration is currently violating those court orders, and are weighing additional legal action to force them to comply.
On July 27, attorneys with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law will present evidence to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that the Trump administration is violating the 1997 Flores settlement by subjecting immigrant families to inhumane treatment and conditions in detention.
Over the past few weeks, the organization’s team of about 100 lawyers interviewed more than 200 migrant children and their parents, and submitted to the court reams of testimony describing physical and verbal assault, lack of food and water, sleep deprivation, and dangerously unsanitary conditions. The detainees described being kicked in their sleep, forced to drink toilet water, fed frozen and rotten food, denied medical treatment, and pushed to sign documents they could not read or understand.
The federal judge hearing the case, Dolly Gee, recently ruled to uphold the standards for immigration detention outlined in Flores and rejected the Trump administration’s arguments for rolling it back as being “wholly without merit.” Now, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law is asking her to appoint an independent monitor to make sure the administration complies with the law.
Fathers and daughters
As federal courts in Washington D.C. and California order the Trump administration to reunite thousands of families it forcibly separated and keep newly arriving families together going forward, some advocacy groups are concerned the administration is continuing to unlawfully remove children.
Efrén Olivares with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is working with hundreds of immigrant parents currently held in ICE detention in and around McAllen, Texas, told TPM that the Trump administration has separated at least one parent from his child since a federal judge in San Diego issued a national injunction banning the policy in late June.
Olivares said that his client Mario Perez-Domingo, an asylum-seeker from Guatemala who speaks the indigenous language Mam, was separated from his two-year-old daughter soon after they were apprehended by the Border Patrol in early July. The agents reportedly told Perez-Domingo that they believed his daughter’s birth certificate to be fabricated, though both the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Guatemalan consulate say they have confirmed its authenticity.
“He’s still separated as of today, and his daughter is still with [the Office of Refugee Resettlement],” Olivares told TPM. “We were told he was transferred Monday night from federal criminal facilities to ICE, but as of this morning he has not yet appeared in ICE’s online system.”
In a letter to ICE, the Texas Civil Rights Project asked for Perez-Domingo to be immediately reunited with his daughter, saying that when the group’s attorneys interviewed him on July 12, “He was visibly distraught, and very affected emotionally by the separation.”
The Border Patrol and ICE have not yet responded to the letter, and did not respond to TPM’s inquiry about the case, but a spokesperson for the Border Patrol told local reporters that Perez-Domingo’s daughter was taken away because he made inconsistent statements about their relationship — first describing her as his daughter and later as his niece. Olivares attributes this discrepancy to the man’s difficulty speaking and understanding Spanish and the government’s refusal to provide a Mam interpreter.
Though Perez-Domingo is the only parent the organization has found whose separation appears to flout Judge Dana Sabraw’s national injunction, Olivares told TPM that the case makes him suspect more violations are occurring.
“We’ve been only been covering the McAllen courthouse. We don’t have the capacity to cover every border city. So this gives us reason to be concerned,” he said. “Additionally, we were only able to learn about Mario’s case at his criminal hearing where he was charged for illegal entry. So if people are being separated but not criminally prosecuted, they will be much harder to find.”
If the family is not reunited promptly, the group may file a motion to intervene in the ACLU’s class action lawsuit or bring a separate legal challenge.
In the dark on reunifications
In addition to ordering the Trump administration to reunite all eligible parents and children by July 26, Judge Sabraw ordered the government to provide the ACLU at least 12 hours notice of when and where the reunifications will take place. The ACLU argued for the court’s enforcement of this right to advance notice after the administration broke its promise to give attorneys and advocacy groups a heads up for the reunifications of about 60 children under the age of 5 that took place over the last two weeks.
One parent, the ACLU said, was left by ICE officials at a bus stop with her children, including a 6-month-old baby, in the middle of the night.
Judge Sabraw agreed with the ACLU, telling the DOJ lawyers that they must provide at least 12 hours notice.
“So much of this is really common sense and common courtesy,” he said. “Someone is making determinations as to who’s getting reunified, what time and where. That information can be communicated. There shouldn’t be anything mysterious about it. It should be transparent and easy to do.”
But Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney for the ACLU in the case, says that while the administration is technically complying, he and others are still in the dark as roughly 200 families per day are reportedly being reunited.
“They’re saying, ‘We’re giving you more than 12 hours notice.’ But we’re just getting notice that they can happen anytime between now and July 26, and that’s not precise enough to be meaningful,” Gelernt told TPM. “We need to know when attorneys need to be at the reunification sites so they can speak to parents about their rights and help them get resources.”
A plan the administration published this week detailing their procedure for reuniting the families includes nothing about providing notice to the ACLU and charity groups.
Gelernt will return to Judge Sabraw’s court Friday to argue the administration should provide more details as the reunifications continue.