NEW YORK — In anticipation of the Trump administration's threatened mass arrest of thousands of families and children, four immigration legal aid nonprofit organizations filed a lawsuit today to protect those refugees. The groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, New York Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm Munger, Tolles, & Olson LLP, argue that constitutional due process requires the government to bring these families and children before an immigration judge so they can have a fair day in court before they face deportation.
The suit aims to protect refugee families and children, most of whom fled widespread violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries at the hands of their governments and murderous gangs. For many of these refugees, obtaining asylum in the U.S. could be a matter of life and death.
The four non-profit service groups are the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef), and Public Counsel.
"The Trump Administration's plan to arrest and deport thousands of Central American families and children without giving them a fair day in court is both illegal and immoral," said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel at the ACLU SoCal. "More than one hundred years ago, the Supreme Court decided that immigrants could not be deported without due process. These vulnerable refugees deserve that basic protection."
The government asserts the power to deport these refugees without any hearing because they failed to appear in immigration court. However, as the lawsuit describes in detail, these refugees failed to appear because of massive bureaucratic errors and, in some cases, deliberate misdirection by immigration enforcement agencies. The agencies' flagrant and widespread errors made it impossible for people to know when their hearings were being held.
As both legal services organizations and news agencies have repeatedly documented, the refugees’ notices to appear in court were sent to incorrect addresses; sent after hearing dates had already passed; issued for dates when courts were not in session; and in some cases for court dates that literally did not exist (such as weekends and September 31).
For example, on January 31, 2019 alone, thousands of refugees lined up for hours at courts across the country with paperwork showing that date for their hearings, only to be told there would be no hearings that day. Many of them were ordered deported for failing to appear.
These refugees are now a primary target of Trump's impending mass arrests.
"The Trump administration's threats against immigrants run roughshod over basic fairness and due process,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "For the many families who came here as refugees fleeing violence, deportation is a death threat. We will fight to ensure no one faces this kind of peril without having their case considered in court."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four non-profit organizations that provide services to refugees:
- Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), founded in 2015 to prevent the wrongful deportation of families seeking asylum by providing legal representation and related forms of assistance.
- Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), founded in 1983 to address the needs of Salvadorans and other Central Americans who fled the region.
- Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef), founded in 2015 and now one of the largest nonprofit providers of deportation defense in California.
- Public Counsel, founded in 1970, the largest pro bono law firm in the nation, which for years has protected the rights of immigrants, including those facing deportation.
"The Trump administration's plan to send families and children who came to this country seeking refuge from violence and abuse in their home countries back to those places, without so much as one opportunity to show a judge they are entitled under U.S. law to stay, is fundamentally at odds with what this nation stands for," said attorney Brad Phillips of Munger, Tolles, & Olson. "We hope by this lawsuit to stop the administration’s unjust and inhumane plan in its tracks."
The case was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Southern District.