Federal Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Unaccompanied Children Targeted By Order
WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union, Texas Civil Rights Project, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and Oxfam have filed a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s order restricting immigration at the border based on an unprecedented and unlawful invocation of the Public Health Service Act, located in Title 42 of the U.S. Code.
The order authorizes the summary removal of unaccompanied children without any due process — even if the child is fleeing danger and seeking protection in the United States and shows no signs of having COVID-19. It also authorizes the summary removal of adults seeking protection in the United States.
The plaintiff, G.Y.J.P., is a 13-year-old girl from El Salvador. Her mother, a former police officer, was targeted by the notorious Salvadoran gangs after she refused to cooperate with them. Forced to quickly flee for her life, G.Y.J.P.’s mother was granted legal protection by the United States and now lives here lawfully. The girl sought to join her mother when the gangs began threatening her life.
When G.Y.J.P. arrived in the United States, she let officials know she was fleeing danger, that her mother lives here, and that she had her mother’s phone number. The officials did not contact her mother and simply removed the girl to El Salvador without a hearing, where she has gone into hiding.
Under longstanding immigration statutes protecting children and those seeking protection, G.Y.J.P. should have been given shelter in a children’s facility until she could be released to her mother, and she should have had a full and fair proceeding to determine her right to protection in the United States — which would have allowed her to reunite permanently with her mother.
“The Trump administration is hiding behind COVID-19 as a way to send children back to grave danger,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt. “Like Trump’s horrendous family separation policy, the courts should conclude this latest attack on children is illegal.”
The groups are asking the court to declare the use of the order against G.Y.J.P. to be unlawful and allow her to return to have her asylum request heard.
“This isn’t some ivory tower legal battle,” said Karla M. Vargas, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “In our name, the government used a dog to chase a girl into the river and never even bothered to check if she had a mother. Then sent her back to a country where she fears being killed. The administration’s racist agenda to end asylum for refugees means dismantling basic protections for the most vulnerable children in the world.”
The lawsuit argues that the administration is not authorized to issue the expulsion order under public health provisions in Title 42 of the U.S. Code — provisions that have rarely been used and never in this way. Title 42 does not permit expulsions of non-citizens who are in the United States, nor does it legally allow the removal of children. Besides violating U.S. immigration law, G.Y.J.P.’s expulsion also violates the nation’s international obligations to protect people fleeing persecution and torture.
“G.Y.J.P. arrived at our border fleeing unthinkable violence, desperate to reunite with her mother,” said Jamie Crook, CGRS director of litigation. “Under the illegal order, our government sent her right back into harm’s way. The pandemic does not absolve the Trump administration of its legal obligations to children like G.Y.J.P. Numerous countries have shown us that it is possible to protect public health while continuing to uphold the rights of refugees.”
The case also cites violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the Convention Against Torture.
“From our decades of work in Central America, Oxfam knows firsthand the severity of conditions, including persecution and torture, that people are fleeing,” said Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America humanitarian policy lead. “As a global organization working to end the injustice of poverty, defend human rights, and advocate for and with the world’s most vulnerable people, we are proud to stand alongside our partners to challenge the Trump administration’s continued assault on this country’s legacy as a refuge for people fleeing persecution. This lawsuit is a critical step to begin repairing the damage being done by these harmful attacks against our common humanity.”
The lawsuit, G.Y.J.P. v. Wolf, was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. The ACLU of Texas and ACLU of D.C. are co-counsel.