How Attorneys Are Using Lawsuits To Reunite Immigrant Families

We talked to an immigration lawyer who's suing the government, hoping to reunite two Brazilian boys with their fathers.
Posted at 5:58 PM, Jun 27, 2018

Attorneys are suing the Trump administration on behalf of two Brazilian boys, ages 9 and 15, who were separated from their fathers at the border in May. They have not yet been reunited. The families were picked up by border officers after illegally crossing into the U.S. One family first tried to seek asylum at an official port of entry but was told that it was closed, according to court documents.

"We want the children reunified with their fathers. If the fathers are getting deported, they do not want to be deported without the children because that becomes a nightmare," said Amy Maldonado, one of the lawyers representing the children. "There was a case of a Central American woman who lost her child. She fought for 10 years because her child was placed into foster care and adopted by a white family here, and that was terrible." 

"These kids have been run all over the country. They've seen all these different people. And the 9-year-old in particular is not doing very well emotionally," Maldonado said.

The lawsuit alleges officials at a border facility told the fathers that they would be separated from their children for only a few days. But the men are now detained in New Mexico and Texas while their children have been transferred to a Chicago shelter. The two families say they are seeking asylum in the U.S. because of serious threats from human and drug traffickers back in Brazil. 

"They're supposed to be making an individualized determination about where they should be placed on a case-by-case basis, but it's not happening at all. What's happening is CBP detain somebody and within two days, their kid is taken away from them — no explanation. One of the children was lied to by the CBP officer — Customs and Border Protections — he was told that he would be back in a few hours, and he was taken 1,000 miles away to a detention center," Maldonado said. 

The lawsuit claims that the way the government separated thousands of families after they crossed into the U.S. illegally violates a 1997 court decree known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. It requires authorities to treat migrant children "with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors,” and only detain them under "the least restrictive setting appropriate." That was violated by the White House, the lawsuit argues, because separating children from their parents for extended periods caused them unnecessary trauma.   The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The Flores Agreement also requires the government to provide detained children "contact with family members." But Maldonado says the two Brazilian boys have not been able to talk to their fathers for weeks. The government said in a recent fact sheet that "every effort is made to ensure minors are able to communicate ... with their parent or guardian at least twice per week." The fact sheet also says that "the government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families."   

Since President Donald Trump announced the end of the separation practice, the White House says it has reunited 522 children migrants who had been separated from their parents. However, these children had not yet been transferred to shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where more than 2,000 separated children remain. The government says it has a "well-coordinated" plan to reunite those children with their guardians, too. That includes a dedicated detention center in San Antonio that will help detained parents find their children before being deported. 

Since Newsy interviewed Maldonado, a federal judge ordered the White House to stop separating migrant families at the border and to reunite those already separated within 30 days.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.