A woman gives a little girl some TLC as she waits at the shelter with her family. Photo by Chris Stone
A woman gives a little girl some TLC as she waits with her family at the Jewish Family Service Migrant Family Shelter. Photo by Chris Stone

A Guatemalan family who claim they were denied access to legal counsel while trying to secure asylum in the United States has received “urgently needed medical care” at a San Diego-area migrant shelter and will now meet with other relatives in the country while awaiting asylum hearings, their attorneys said Monday.

The family of seven are lead plaintiffs in a recent proposed class- action lawsuit regarding access to attorneys during proceedings known as “non- refoulement interviews,” during which migrants at the border must detail their fears over being returned to Mexico.

The plaintiffs — two adults and five children — allege in court documents that they fled Guatemala in April after they were targeted for extortion, the family’s 17-year-old daughter was raped and threatened with death and her 9-year-old brother stricken with leukemia.

The family was later assaulted and held at gunpoint by men in government uniforms while traveling through Mexico, according to the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The suit claims they were forced to disrobe and the 17-year-old was choked by one of the men. ACLU lawyers say the family was then threatened not to report what happened.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled last week that the family must be permitted access to their attorneys from Jewish Family Service, which is representing them in the immigration case.

The family had been held in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody for more than a week before having their non-refoulement interview last Thursday.

Jewish Family Service CEO Michael Hopkins said that with legal counsel present, “The family was able to communicate their traumatic experiences and ongoing fears of persecution while in Mexico to the federal government and will now be allowed to await their asylum hearings in the U.S. — safely and with adequate resources.”

Hopkins said the family was later released to Jewish Family Service’s Migrant Family Shelter to secure medical care for the mother and 9-year-old boy, as well as “a safe and friendly place to sleep and shower.”

They’ve since left the shelter to travel to meet with family members, Hopkins said.

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties alleges in the suit that the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols — or “Remain in Mexico” — program has turned away thousands of people fleeing Central America through Mexico, even if they faced substantial threats.

Nearly 50,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, according to the ACLU.

— City News Service