Engraved on the Statue of Liberty base are these famous words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Then what? Turn them away without proper due process?
According to a lawsuit filed by attorneys and national immigrant rights groups against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that’s just what’s been happening in Artesia, New Mexico.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven women and three children from Central America held at the Artesia Family Residential Center and alleges that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security violated their right to due process by “fast tracking” deportations.
The complaint claims the Obama administration is violating constitutional and statutory law by enacting policies that have:
- Categorically prejudged asylum cases with a “detain-and-deport” policy, regardless of individual circumstances.
- Drastically restricted communication with the outside world for the women and children held at the remote detention center, including communication with attorneys.
- Given virtually no notice to detainees of critically important interviews used to determine the outcome of asylum requests.
- Led to the intimidation and coercion of the women and children by immigration officers, including being screamed at for wanting to see a lawyer.
This new swifter protocol should hardly come as a shock since the Obama administration announced last month that fast-track deportations will be deployed under a White House plan to deal with an immigration crisis prompted by the arrival of more than 52,000 children from Central America at the southern US border since last October.
Why shouldn’t children in this situation be immediately deported? The Advocates for Human Rights has an answer:
These children, like all people seeking protection, must be given the chance to be heard. The message from the Obama administration cannot be “don’t come, you’ll be sent back” without violating our obligations to ensure that everyone who seeks asylum from persecution or protection from torture or human trafficking.
Back in January 2013, President Obama stated, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”
Perhaps if moms and kids fleeing violence in Central America arrived equipped with engineering degrees, the U.S. government wouldn’t be so quick to turn them away.
According to a press release issued by the American Immigration Council, the immigrant rights groups are suing the federal government “to challenge its policies denying a fair deportation process to mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the United States seeking safety.”
The Legal Action Center’s Artesia Resource Page explains:
The lawsuit alleges that government officials created Artesia to limit successful asylum claims, whether or not such individuals would face persecution in their home countries. DHS did this by creating a new, more stringent “expedited removal” system that results in the denial of meritorious asylum claims.
The page goes on to explain:
The new expedited removal policy was outlined by President Obama in a June 30 letter to Congress that directed DHS to take “aggressive steps to surge resources to our Southwest border to deter both adults and children from this dangerous journey… and quickly return unlawful migrants to their home countries.”
The result: women and children in danger for their lives are being forced to return to their home countries, many without being given the opportunity to tell their stories and have their day in court.
The groups listed on the suit include American Immigration Council, American Civil Liberties Union, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and National Immigration Law Center.
The plaintiffs include:
- A Honduran mother who sought asylum in the United States with her two young children after their father was killed by a violent gang in Honduras that also threatened her and her children’s lives.
- A mother who fled El Salvador with her 10 month old son after rival gangs threatened to kill her and her baby.
Trina Realmuto, an attorney at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, had this to say about the plaintiff’s situations:
The women and children detained in Artesia have endured brutal murders of loved ones, rapes, death threats, and similar atrocities that no mother or child ever should have to endure, and our government is herding them through the asylum process like cattle. The deportation-mill in Artesia lacks even the most basic protections, like notice and the opportunity to be heard, that form the cornerstone of due process in this country.
So if the lawsuit claims women and children entering the United States are being forced to leave without due process, then what should due process in this case look like?
According to Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, “U.S. law guarantees them a fair opportunity to seek asylum. Yet, the government’s policy violates that basic law and core American values — we do not send people who are seeking asylum back into harm’s way. We should not sacrifice fairness for speed in life-or-death situations.”
Based on this statement President Obama made last month, it seems he is aware of the gravity of the situation for children fleeing Central America:
We have countries that are pretty close to us in which the life chances of children are just far, far worse than they are here. And parents who are frightened or are misinformed about what’s possible are willing to take extraordinary risks on behalf of their kids.
The White House website currently outlines a proposal for streamlining immigration that “better addresses humanitarian concerns.” Specifically:
The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence. It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.
The question is, how exactly does fast-tracking deportations accomplish this?
Photo Credit: The Advocates for Human Rights