Three mothers who crossed the southern U.S. border to seek asylum, were forcibly separated from their children, and relocated to a SeaTac prison filed a lawsuit against federal agencies on Monday, demanding that immigration officials reunite parents with their kids.
Plaintiffs Ibis Guzman and Yolany Padilla, from Honduras; and Blanca Orantes, from El Salvador, all have young sons who had been taken away by Border Patrol when they crossed the Texas border.
In the lawsuit, the mothers' attorneys claim that forced separation causes deep trauma to both parents and children, and that the government has a responsibility to expedite asylum seekers' immigration trials. The complaint describes the moments the women's sons were taken away from them, misled or kept in the dark about how long the separation would be.
"My son is all that I have," Orantes said in a released statement. "Every day I am not with him, I feel that I am dying inside. I need to be reunited with him immediately."
The complaint names U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement as defendants.
Attorneys argue that the federal government is violating the Fifth Amendment by taking children away from parents without a hearing and not swiftly providing "credible fear" interviews, which prompt an immigration trial. The women, who had been detained since May, haven't been interviewed yet and have only recently been allowed to call their children.
"Without any assertions of abuse, neglect, or parental unfitness, and with no hearings of any kind, the government is detaining these parents on the other side of the country from their young children, who have been left to face an uncertain future frightened and alone," Northwest Immigrant Rights Project attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
The three women will seek to represent all parents who were separated from their children and detained in Washington state, according to Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. The women were part of a group of more than 200 asylum seekers, about 50 with children, who had been transferred from immigration detention centers in Texas to a federal prison in Washington state.
Guzman, Orantes, and Padilla Guzman's 5-year-old son was sent to a facility in San Antonio, Texas, while Orantes's 8-year-old and Padilla's 6-year-old were sent to facilities across the country in New York.
After the federal administration faced backlash for its "zero-tolerance" immigration policy—and ProPublica published audio clips of crying children being taken away from their parents—president Donald Trump on June 20 signed an executive order that he claimed would keep families together.
Though the executive order said the administration's policy would "maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources," it also stated that it would "rigorously enforce our immigration laws" and places blame on Congress for separating families rather than Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy.
The executive order also doesn't address parents who are currently detained and have already had kids taken away from them. According to reports, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents at or near the U.S.-Mexico border since May.