Fearing death in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ms. L. escaped with her seven-year-old daughter, eventually arriving at the San Ysidro port of entry in November 2017 to request asylum. After passing a credible fear interview, ICE officers ripped her daughter from her arms, locked Ms. L away in the Otay Mesa Detention Center , and sent her daughter across the country to a facility in Chicago. When the officers separated them, Ms. L. could hear her daughter frantically screaming to stay with her mother. Both mother and daughter sat traumatized, separated, and alone for months. On February 26, 2018, with the ACLU Foundation Immigrants’ Rights Project, we filed suit to end their forced separation. Soon afterward, the mother and daughter were reunited.

Ms. L was not alone. Across the southwest border, the government had implemented a policy of forced family separation, targeted at asylum seeking parents who were seeking the protection of the United States. Thousands of other parents had been victimized by this policy. Through our formal legal outreach program to people in ICE detention, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties had encountered several parents whose children the government had similarly taken, most of whom weren’t even told where their children were being held. 

The ACLU converted Ms. L’s case to a class action to prevent more separations and to reunite impacted parents with their children of families. In June 2018, the court granted a classwide injunction to reunify families. But because the government had kept poor records of the separations, locating parents and children and reunifying them presented a significant challenge and continues today. To date, thousands of children have been identified and reunited with their parents or placed according to parents’ wishes, though the work continues.


Bardis Vakili, Lee Gelernt, Judy Rabinovitz, Anand Balakrishnan, Daniel A. Galindo, Stephen B. Kang, Spencer E. Amdur

Date filed

February 26, 2018


Southern District of California


Dana M. Sabraw



Case number