Immigration authorities coerced roughly 76 immigrant parents separated from their children at the border into signing documents they couldn’t understand, according to a new complaint. In some cases, these parents signed away their rights to be reunited with their children and didn’t even know it.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council are expected to file this complaint on Thursday against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to the Associated Press.
Specifically, the complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Inspector General claims several mothers were told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers that if they didn’t sign the forms presented to them, they would never see their children again.
These parents mainly spoke Spanish or indigenous languages, yet were handed documents in English and given just a few minutes to make a decision. Immigration attorneys worry there is no way of knowing which parents willingly signed the paperwork and how many were coerced into doing so.
In one example detailed in the complaint, a Guatemalan mother was separated from her 5-year-old boy at the border and was told by an officer at a detention center in Port Isabel, Texas that she must sign a self-deportation document in order to see her son again. The officer did not tell the woman what she was signing and threatened her with solitary confinement when she would not stop weeping for her child. She was eventually reunited with her child at a detention center in Dilley, Texas where they are currently being held.
“Coercive tactics employed against a vulnerable population raises significant legal concerns and threatens the fundamental due process, statutory, and regulatory rights of parents who were separated from their children,” the attorneys write in the complaint.
The government was given until July 26 to reunite all families separated at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. In order to expedite the reunification, the government labeled hundreds of parents unfit to be reunited with their children (citing a “red flag background check”). The most recent government figures suggest the parents of 366 children have been deported without their kids; six of those children are under the age of 5.
The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed no responsibility for reuniting the families it separated.