MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southern Poverty Law Center has joined a class action lawsuit against the government on behalf of more than 10,000 undocumented children held in detention centers across the country.
The lawsuit, filed by the SPLC, Legal Aid Justice Center and Washington, DC-based Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC, seeks that detained children who have a sponsor in the US be released from detention and that the system is overhauled.
At issue is the sharing of a sponsor’s information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a leaked government memo that revealed the motivation of policies, like “zero tolerance” and information sharing, was to deter migrants.
“The memo did play an important role in having us understand the motivation of the administration,” said Mary Bauer, deputy legal director at the SPLC in a call with reporters on Tuesday. “It seemed to us apparent that the policies were designed for the purpose of harming families and those concerns were confirmed.”
In the same call, Kayla Vazquez, a detained child’s sponsor who’s listed in the complaint, described the challenges she and her family have faced in trying to retrieve her husband’s cousin, a 17-year-old boy from Honduras who was apprehended at the US-Mexico border last summer.
“I’m sick of it, it’s frustrating,” Vazquez said. “His mother reaches out to me asking what’s going on and when her son is going to be with us. …This minor is turning 18 in May and we’re scared they’re waiting for him to turn 18 and be deported or go to jail or something like that.” Once a child turns 18, they’re released from custody and can be turned over to ICE.
A lawsuit addressing children in government custody was originally filed last August by the Legal Aid Justice Center. That lawsuit, however, only covered detained children in Virginia.
The announcement comes on the heels of a Health and Human Services inspector general report that found “thousands” more children had been separated than previously reported and a leaked internal memo that revealed how the administration intended to deter migrants from approaching the border through policies like family separation.
The complaint was filed Friday in the Eastern District of Virginia. A hearing is scheduled for February 15.