Representing Children Separated at the Border
In May 2018, we met four siblings in government custody who were separated from their mother who was facing charges for illegally entering the United States. Ranging in age from 7 to 17, the siblings were living in different foster homes for two months and had only spoken with their mother a few times since being forcibly separated. While the siblings greatly wished to be reunited with their mother, they feared doing so might mean detainment or deportation. These children, together with 72 others, became our individual clients as we fought for their release from Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody.
In June, in response to widespread outrage, President Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s controversial family separation policy. Despite the ACLU’s suit to require reunification, The Legal Aid Society and others were concerned that the government planned to deport families once reunified.
In response, we filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all children in ORR custody in New York who had been forcibly separated from a parent, covering more than 300 children in total. We successfully obtained a temporary restraining order in Federal Court, requiring 48 hours notice and meaningful information about the government’s plan before moving our clients. This success gave our young clients an opportunity to consult with their parent(s) before the plan was effectuated.
While one team of attorneys fought for the rights of separated children in general, our individual casework continued. The four siblings mentioned above were slated to be reunified with their mother in Texas, but given the trauma they’d endured and the looming uncertainty of the reunification process, we filed a group habeas petition in New York challenging these plans. The government relented, agreeing to bring the mother to New York to be reunified.
On July 27, the children reunited with their mother at the ICE offices in NYC. Our attorneys ensured a swift and proper process. A few hours later, the family was on their way to start their new life in San Francisco. The children are now enrolled in school and attend regular therapy sessions.