WASHINGTON, DC – Government officials used coercive tactics against parents who were separated from their children, according to a complaint filed with Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council (Council) as part of the Immigration Justice Campaign. The complaint points to numerous examples, including that of Mrs. D.P., who was separated from her 9-year-old daughter for 47 days as a result of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” border policy. While separated, she was given a telephonic credible fear interview; for those in expedited removal proceedings, this is the first step in their pursuit of asylum in the United States, in which an asylum officer determines if one has “credible fear of persecution.”
During the call, Mrs. D.P. cried hysterically and requested the whereabouts of her daughter repeatedly, unaware that the asylum officer on the phone knew nothing about her daughter and was solely asking about her asylum case. Mrs. D.P. was then told to “watch the news” to learn where her daughter was. After receiving a negative decision from the Asylum Office, government officials asked her to sign her deportation papers. When she refused, she was subject to multiple instances of physical and verbal intimidation.
The complaint includes case examples and original testimony from separated parents that document a pervasive, and illegal, practice by DHS officials of coercing mothers and fathers into signing documents they may not have understood, ostensibly waiving their legal rights, including their right to be reunified with their children. These tactics, according to AILA and the Council, impeded these parents’ ability to meaningfully participate in the asylum process. Dozens of separated parents, most of whom signed paperwork they did not understand, remain detained and separated from their children.
According to Katie Shepherd, National Advocacy Counsel with the Immigration Justice Campaign, “The practice of family separation is reprehensible, but this complaint shows the depth and breadth of this unjust policy. Parents, under implicit and explicit duress and coercion, were unknowingly relinquishing their rights to a fair day in court. These parents are desperate to save their children. The government took full advantage with actions that are not only morally inexcusable, but also unconstitutional. We urge the government’s oversight agencies to investigate DHS’s use of coercive tactics against parents and ensure that all parents and children subjected to this coercion be immediately reunified.”
Source: AILA Doc. No. 18082236.