Mother and Children Separated and Detained in Different States File Lawsuit Challenging Treatment

Family seeks justice from federal government and Chicago-area shelter contractor

CHICAGO, IL — A Honduran family seeking asylum at the border has filed a lawsuit against the United States challenging their forced separation, and the harsh and inhumane treatment they suffered.

The children were 14- and 5-years old when federal immigration officers—without warning or explanation—separated them from their mother shortly after they arrived in the United States. Their mother was held in Texas, under harsh and demeaning conditions imposed by immigration authorities, while the children were sent to a Chicago-area shelter that contracted with the government.

For more than a month, the mother and her children were not permitted to speak to each other and denied information about each other’s well-being. The family’s lawsuit charges that the government separated them in this manner to deliberately inflict severe emotional trauma on Central American families like theirs. The lawsuit also names Heartland Alliance, the entity that operated Casa Guadalupe, the Chicago shelter where the children were detained after being separated from their mother. Upon arriving at Casa Guadalupe, the children were separated from one another, prohibited from hugging, and kept in an environment so regimented that it exacerbated the trauma of their forced separation and isolation. Casa Guadalupe closed in 2019 after media reports uncovered evidence that children were mistreated.

“ASAP is proud to represent this family, who are bringing their case forward to ensure that no one else experiences what they did,” said Swapna Reddy, Co-Executive Director for the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP). “As a mother, I cannot imagine the pain of being separated from my child and knowing my child was suffering.”

“Make no mistake: federal immigration agents did not have to wrest two children from their mother and deny them so much as a phone call for more than a month,” said Anand Swaminathan, an attorney with Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. “These federal agents made a choice, a cruel and heinous choice, to deliberately inflict pain and trauma upon a family seeking refuge.” 

“This is a critical time to stand up for the rights of asylum seekers,” said Zachary Manfredi, ASAP Staff Attorney. “Our clients seek to hold the government and government contractors accountable for abuses in detention and hope that this case will bring those abuses to light.”

“After everything they have been put through, the family is bringing this lawsuit to fight for the truth and to demand justice,” said Swaminathan. “Their courage is to be admired.”

ASAP and Loevy & Loevy represent the family in this lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, May 22, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the trauma and injuries suffered as a result of family separation. The complaint outlines wrongdoing by government officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, as well as the ORR contractor, Heartland Alliance.  Read the complaint here.

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