ACLU, Jewish Family Service, UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy Send Letter to Secretary Mayorkas Raising Concerns Over Continued Family Separations,
Calling for Justice for Separated Family
SAN DIEGO (Aug. 16, 2022) – Earlier this year, Lucy*, a mother fleeing violence in El Salvador with her 10-year-old daughter, 18-year-old son and 18-year-old stepson was brutally assaulted by an armed U.S. Border Patrol agent and separated from her children. The family members were each sent to detention facilities in different parts of the country, and Lucy was not told where her children were or how to contact them. It took five months and the eventual advocacy of multiple organizations to reunite Lucy with her daughter and son. They remain separated from their stepson, who was deported to El Salvador.
Lucy’s story is just one example of the ongoing family separations caused by federal agencies still occurring at the U.S. border with Mexico. Today, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLU-SDIC), Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) and UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to seek accountability for the mother Lucy and her family (referenced above). The letter also reinforces previous calls for Mayorkas to direct border officials to stop separating families seeking asylum in the U.S. at the southern border.
This is the group’s second letter to Mayorkas. The first, which highlighted ongoing family separations and proposed concrete solutions to end the practice, was sent to Mayorkas over one year ago but led to no substantial response, action or remedies to end family separations.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) continues to callously separate families who have fled harm in search of protection. This disregard for family unity compounds their trauma, jeopardizes due process and risks permanent separations marked by international borders,” said Esmeralda Flores, a senior policy advocate with ACLU-SDIC. “Our government’s response to this ongoing problem has been grossly insufficient. DHS must implement prevention-based policies against separation that treat all families with dignity and respect.”
Today’s letter demanding justice for Lucy and her family details egregious, unjust and unnecessary harms done to her and her family, starting with an assault during which an armed Border Patrol agent “punched [Lucy] in the mouth, hit her in the stomach and slammed her body against a train … grabbed her by her hair and slammed her body against the ground, pressing his knee deep into her back.” Lucy later received medical attention for the resulting injuries while in immigration custody.
Instead of holding the Border Patrol agent accountable for his assault against Lucy, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed criminal charges against her alleging that she – “a 4-foot, 9-inch-tall woman weighing under 120 pounds – forcibly assaulted, resisted, opposed, impeded, intimidated and interfered with the armed male Border Patrol agent who assaulted her,” as well as charges against her son, Anner*, for the same incident. The government later asked the court to dismiss the charges against Lucy and her son, which the court did, but did not facilitate reunification of the family even after the criminal cases were dismissed. Instead, the government transferred Lucy and Anner to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility, prolonging the family’s separation. Despite being incarcerated in the same facility for nearly two months, Lucy and Anner were refused visitation while they were in custody, in contravention of ICE’s own detention standards.
The incident resulted in Lucy being separated from her daughter and son for five months. During that period, Lucy’s 18-year-old stepson, Fabio*, was deported to El Salvador.
“For one period, I didn’t know where any of my children were. It was a feeling of hopelessness I cannot describe,” said Lucy. “At that point, I considered taking my own life. My children are everything to me, and their safety is all I care about – just as any mother can understand – which is why we escaped from El Salvador in the first place.”
“It was not until JFS became aware of this case and filed release applications for Lucy and Anner that they were released from ICE custody, and JFS (through its operation of the San Diego Rapid Response Network Migrant Shelter Services) and CILP were able to facilitate their reunion. At no point did CBP, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, ICE, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or the DHS Family Reunification Taskforce intervene to reunite this family,” said Senior Director of Immigration Services Kate Clark, Esq. of JFS. “Through our operation of San Diego Rapid Response Network Migrant Shelter Services, we have seen more than 20 documented occurrences of family separation at the border since the start of the Biden Administration. Lucy's family was fortunate enough to be connected with legal representation to help with her case and her family reunification, but the majority of asylum seekers are not this fortunate. This can and must change because no parent or child should ever endure this amount of unjust cruelty and suffering. We have provided DHS with very practical solutions that can be immediately implemented.”
The letter to Mayorkas acknowledges that by attempting to roll back inhumane border policies that have blocked access to asylum, DHS has taken important initial steps toward rebuilding the asylum process at the southern border. It continues: “However, these modest measures are wholly insufficient to prevent ongoing separations ….” In addition to urging DHS to agree to grant asylum to Lucy and her family, the letter makes several additional recommendations for DHS accountability, including, but not limited to, recommendations that:
- The Biden Administration’s Family Reunification Task Force prioritize investigation and prevention of ongoing incidents of separation of families;
- DHS investigate and hold accountable the Border Patrol agents involved in Lucy’s attack that resulted in injuries and trauma, criminal charges and her prolonged separation from her children; and
- DHS decline to refer for criminal prosecution cases that would necessarily result in family separation, absent a showing of extraordinary danger.
“It is unacceptable that Border Patrol agents assaulted Lucy in front of her children, charged her criminally, and then used the criminal allegations as justification for her separation from her children, but refused to facilitate reunification once it dismissed the criminal charges against her. Lucy’s case is one of many that illustrate how patterns of abuse and impunity by immigration agents at the border subject adults and children to unspeakable physical harm and psychological trauma,” said Staff Attorney Monika Langarica of CILP. “We demand accountability for Lucy and her family, and call on DHS to adopt the recommendations laid out in this letter, which could prevent this kind of suffering in the future.”
For more information about ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, visit www.aclusandiego.org. For more information about Jewish Family Service of San Diego, visit www.jfssd.org. For more information about UCLA Center for Immigration law and Policy, visit law.ucla.edu/academics/centers/center-immigration-law-and-policy.
*Full names are not being used to protect the identities of those involved.
For more information on the family separation letter ACLU-SDIC and JFS sent to DHS on July 13, 2021, click here.