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Parents of Children Forcibly Separated While Seeking Asylum File Suit Against U.S. Government

Today, on behalf of 29 plaintiffs forcibly separated from their children under the Trump administration’s cruel and inhumane “zero tolerance” policy, Muslim Advocates and the Legal Aid Justice Center filed Dora v. Sessions, a lawsuit against the Trump administration for wrongfully depriving the plaintiffs of their right to apply for asylum by forcing them through “credible fear interviews,” while they were traumatized and incapable of participating in those interviews.

Because of the disabling trauma of family separation, parents were confused, disoriented, unable to focus on anything other than the whereabouts and well-being of their children, and unable to adequately articulate their experiences to the interviewing officers. As a result, the plaintiffs received negative credible fear determinations, and now face immediate deportation. The complaint raises claims under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

Among other things, the complaint seeks a court order compelling the federal government to vacate separated parents’ negative credible fear determinations and to provide them a new opportunity for a credible fear interview with reasonable accommodations for the psychological conditions caused by forcible family separation.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Ronald Vitiello, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship, Immigration Services L. Francis Cissna, and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin K. McAleenan.

Since June 2018, the Trump administration has separated over 3,000 children from their parents. Today, hundreds remain separated.

According to Sirine Shebaya, senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates: “The parents in this lawsuit came to the United States fleeing unspeakable violence and seeking shelter for themselves and their children. They brought their children here to protect them from harm. Many had promised their children that they were bringing them to a better place. But instead, their children were forcibly snatched away from them. Meanwhile, they were forced through the most critical interview of their lives – and their only opportunity at applying for asylum – without regard to the extreme psychological trauma they were suffering and are continuing to suffer. The harm these cruel and inhumane policies have caused our plaintiffs is hard to capture to its full extent – it is beyond anything we would ever have imagined. Parents were en masse experiencing debilitating symptoms that stopped them from being able to participate in their own asylum interviews. They deserve better, and should at the very least be given a new opportunity to articulate their claims for asylum in the United States.”

According to Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia: “The legal theory behind this case is simple.  The government’s policy of forcibly separating asylum-seeking families was deeply traumatizing to the parents as well as the children.  The government cannot then turn around and ask asylum-seeking parents, all by themselves, unrepresented by lawyers, debilitated by trauma, to articulate complex legal claims without any support or accommodation.”

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