How did Justice in Motion help the separated families?
After deporting hundreds of separated parents, the United States government declared them “ineligible” for reunification, because they were no longer in the U.S. But at Justice in Motion, we know that migrant rights cannot stop at the border. We mobilized our on-the-ground Defender Network of human rights lawyers and NGOs across Mexico and Central America to find the parents deported without their children and help families to reunite in their countries of origin.
By late May of 2018, our Defenders were in direct communication with several parents who were deported to Central America without their children. Those Defenders helped to document what the parents were suffering and connect them with lawyers in the U.S. In late June, the ACLU’s Ms. L. v. ICE litigation forced the U.S. government to reunify families who had been separated.
At that moment, the scope of the problem became clear: the U.S. government had deported more than 400 parents without their children, and they had no plan to reunite them. We saw the scale of families’ needs and realized that our network was uniquely positioned to reach these parents and ensure that they had access to reunification and justice.
In close partnership with our fellow members of the Ms. L. v. ICE Steering Committee, we reached all the deported parents in the Ms. L class. (For a snapshot of Defenders’ journeys to find the parents, visit our Press page.) Justice in Motion then helped parents understand the legal process and make informed decisions, whether asking that their child be returned to their country of origin, or that they be placed with families in the U.S. Our Defenders took on cases that were challenging because of indigenous languages, protection needs, and other complications. Ultimately, Justice in Motion submitted 59 preference declarations to the court, ensuring that those parents had a voice in their children’s futures.
Once reunifications began in countries of origin, Justice in Motion worked closely with Al Otro Lado to reimburse parents for their expenses as they traveled to capital cities to reunite with their children. Defenders throughout Central America accompanied 43 reunifications – serving as trusted, local points of contact for parents through a confusing and lengthy process.
Some of the parents suffered not only separation, but the denial of a fair asylum process. These parents first fled to the U.S. with their children to seek protection from persecution, as is their right under U.S. and international law. Our Defenders and staff screened deported parents for protection needs, referred parents for individual representation, and helped to submit 41 parents’ asylum declarations to the government. For some, however, the asylum re-application mechanism under the Ms. L settlement was not swift enough to keep them safe. As a result, Al Otro Lado moved a group of 29 parents through Central America and Mexico to present their cases in the U.S. Justice in Motion worked behind the scenes to provide logistical support and get families the documents they needed in their countries of origin. This work continues, as some asylum-seeking families remain in Central America, and the outcome of government negotiations is still uncertain.