Otay Mesa Detention Facility.
Otay Mesa Detention Facility. Photo via detentionwatchnetwork.org

A federal lawsuit filed Monday in San Diego aims to reunite an asylum-seeking mother and her 7-year-old daughter, who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo only to be forcibly torn from each other in the United States and detained separately 2,000 miles apart, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

”The Trump administration is using this little girl and her mother as pawns in its draconian public policy experiment,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Not only is it horrific to rip this child from her mother, there is no legal justification for it.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Constitution’s due process clause, federal law protecting asylum seekers and the government’s own directive to release asylum seekers.

Fearing death in the Congo, the plaintiff, identified only as Ms. L., escaped with her daughter, eventually arriving at a port of entry near San Diego, the lawsuit says.

The mother was given a screening interview with an asylum officer, who determined that her fear of persecution in her home country was credible and that she had a significant possibility of receiving full asylum following immigration proceedings, according to the complaint.

Despite that determination, the adult plaintiff has been locked up in the Otay Mesa Detention Center in Otay Mesa, while her daughter was sent halfway across the country to a facility in Chicago, according to the ACLU.

When the officers separated them, the mother could hear her daughter frantically screaming in the next room that she wanted to remain with her parent, the suit says. According to the ACLU, the girl has now sat traumatized and alone — 2,000 miles from her mother — for nearly four months.

Leading child welfare organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical professionals have publicly denounced the forced separation of children from their parents, ACLU officials said.

In a letter sent last month to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, they wrote: “We fear these actions will have significant and long- lasting consequences for the safety, health, development, and well-being of children, and urgently request that the Administration reverse course on any policies that would separate families.”

— City News Service