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Mom, Girl Fled to the US, Are Being Held 2K Miles Apart

ACLU sues the US government over the case of 'Ms. L' and 'SS'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2018 11:05 AM CST
Updated Feb 27, 2018 12:04 PM CST
She Fearfully Fled the Congo. Then the US Took Her Child
In this June 9, 2017, file photo, a vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.   (AP Photo/Elliot Spagat, File)

(Newser) – The story begins on Nov. 1, 2017, when "Ms. L" and "SS," her 7-year-old girl, arrived on US shores. They told the border agents at a port of entry near San Diego they had fled the Democratic Republic of Congo out of fear for their lives and were seeking asylum in the US. What happened next is the subject of a lawsuit filed Monday by the ACLU on the family's behalf: The ACLU charges that SS was taken from her mother within days of their arrival, with Ms. L able to hear the girl screaming for her in the next room. She hasn't seen her daughter since, and there are now 2,000 miles between the two, with Ms. L in San Diego's Otay Mesa Detention Center and SS in Chicago. More on the case:

  • The ACLU's argument: It says there were no accusations or indications of abuse or neglect, and that the due process protections granted by the Fifth Amendment were violated because no hearing was held and no reason given for splitting the two up. The ACLU says the mother and daughter have had no contact other than some phone calls (about six, per the AP) and is seeking to have them immediately released (it says a nongovernmental shelter could house them) or, at the very least, reunited: "The Constitution and basic human decency demand it." Voice of America reports the Department of Homeland Security doesn't comment on pending lawsuits or specific cases.

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  • The mother's case: Details are sparse, but the Times of San Diego notes the mother did undergo a screening interview that found she had a "credible" fear of persecution in her native country and that it was reasonable to expect she might ultimately be granted asylum. The Washington Post reports Ms. L is described as a 39-year-old Catholic who sought shelter in a church for a period of time before fleeing.
  • Some legal background: The AP's report mentions the 1997 Flores settlement, which put to bed a lawsuit regarding immigrant children. It dictates that immigrant children be released from custody if possible; if not, they should be detained in the "least restrictive setting" available. Among the Trump administration's immigration-related proposals: ending the settlement. The Post reports the administration has weighed employing such separations as a possible deterrent, though it hasn't enacted any such policy.
  • The prior administration: The Post reports that "under federal court orders" the Obama administration held women and their children together, for a maximum of three weeks, at which point they'd be released.
  • ICE's opinion: The AP surfaces a January interview it did with acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Tom Homan, who said there "have been some separations done," particularly when it was suspected the child was smuggled across the border. He added, "I'd be a fool to say that none of them have a case of credible fear. ... But I can tell you ... many of them are taking advantage of a low threshold."
  • The timeline: The Wall Street Journal notes there are 667,000 cases pending in immigration court, so it can take years for an asylum seeker to learn his or her fate.
(Read more asylum seeker stories.)

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