Civil Rights Group Argues Family Separation Meets Legal Standard for Torture
October 4, 2018, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed in a Manhattan court for the immediate release and reunification of a Honduran man seeking asylum (“Mr. C.”) and his two-year-old son, who have been separated between two New York detention facilities since May. While Mr. C is detained in the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, New York, his two-year-old is detained in a refugee resettlement facility in the Bronx, and handed over to a foster parent appointed by the detention center overnight. They are barred from communication. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found that Mr. C. has a reasonable fear of persecution if he returns to Honduras, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has suggested it would reunify Mr. C. and his son only if he forfeits his asylum claim and return to the gang-based persecution he attempted to flee.
“It breaks my heart every day that I wake up and cannot see my son,” said Mr. C, speaking from the detention facility in Goshen, New York. “The last time I saw him, he could only say a few words including ‘papa,’ and my heart aches that I am not there to see everything he is learning and how he is growing. There is a hurt in my heart that nothing can take away until I can be with my son. They give me pills to help, but nothing does. We ran from Honduras from danger. It was a harrowing journey to get to the United States, and then they took my son away and put me in detention.”
Mr. C. and his son fled Honduras due to explicit death threats from members of gangs that already killed several members of Mr. C.’s extended family. According to the filing, shortly after arriving in the U.S. seeking asylum, border officials accused Mr. C. of being a criminal and told him to say goodbye to his son because they were taking him away. Since then, and for the subsequent six months, Mr. C. has been held in various detention facilities, while his son spends the hours of 7:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. in a detention facility and nights with a foster parent. Mr. C. has been prohibited from having any contact with his son since officials took the child from him in May. Mr. C’s separation – and the effort to condition his reunification upon forfeiting his asylum rights – is part of a broader “Zero Tolerance” policy enacted by high level Trump Administration officials designed to separate families in order to, as DHS Secretary Neilson said, deter the “current flows” of migrants.
“This father and son fled torture and death in their home country, only to be met with a U.S. policy of torture—the separation of parents from infant children,” said CCR Legal Director, Baher Azmy. “The Constitution prohibits the Administration’s barbaric practice of ripping families apart in pursuit of its discriminatory policy of excluding refugees who are fleeing horrific persecution at home. This cruelty is still happening today, with shattering psychological and emotional trauma to families.”
As the complaint details, this prolonged separation of father and son, especially for the purpose of coercing a forfeiture of rights, literally meets the U.S. and international law definition of torture, which includes the infliction of “severe mental pain or suffering.” As the American Academy of Pediatrics has explained: [H]ighly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short-and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”
Today’s filing challenges Mr. C. and his son’s treatment as unlawful detention, a violation of Mr. C.’s right to pursue asylum protections, unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and/or national origin, and torture, due to the sever physical and mental suffering imposed by the detentions and separation. Attorneys have asked the court to block efforts to return Mr. C. and his son to Honduras, to declare their separation unlawful, to immediately release Mr. C. and his son and prohibit further separation.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.