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Civil rights groups sue to stop 'deportation mill' in New Mexico

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Civil rights groups sue to stop 'deportation mill' in New Mexico

  • U.S. Marshals transfer unaccompanied minors from Nogales, onto a chartered airliner at Tucson International Airport.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comU.S. Marshals transfer unaccompanied minors from Nogales, onto a chartered airliner at Tucson International Airport.

Calling a federal facility in Artesia, New Mexico a "deportation mill," civil rights groups are suing the federal government, arguing that procedures at the makeshift deportation center harm the asylum claims of those being held there. 

The claim was filed today on behalf of five mothers and their children being held at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where the federal government established a facility to process the deportation of hundreds of women and children who were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley.

The women and children are seeking asylum in the United States from violence in Central America, and the lawsuit argues that they face a complicated legal system that employs intimidation and coercion to dissuade them from pursuing their claims.

According to the suit, M.S.P.C. v. Johnson, the government categorically prejudges asylum claims with a "detain-and-deport" policy, ignoring the merits of individual claims. This policy potentially violates the Immigration and Nationalization Act and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The plaintiffs also allege that the government restricts telephone access and that the facility's remoteness make it difficult for the women and their children to receive council, often leaving the women to present their own argument against questions "phrased in complicated legal terminology."

The lawsuit was submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and National Immigration Law Center.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the heads of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection are named in the lawsuit, along with the acting director of the Artesia facility. 

One Salvadoran mother, known as E.O.Z. in the lawsuit, claims that she fled her country with her 11-year old daughter after repeated death threats. A street gang threatened to kill her because her husband is a police officer who has "refused to join forces with the gang."

According to the lawsuit, just hours after E.O.Z. and her daughter fled, the gang "shot at their home." Despite her claims that they could be killed if they have to return home, federal officials denied their asylum evaluation and refused to make a separate evaluation for the woman's 11-year-old daughter.

Another woman, known as E.R.R., fled Honduras after she received weekly death threats from the gang who ultimately stabbed her partner to death. Her claim was denied at first, but is currently being re-evaluated.

Finally, R.E.C.G alleges that officers in San Diego, where she was held with her five-year son, told her not to claim she feared returning to El Salvador because she would face further detention if she did.

Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection do not comment on ongoing litigation.

On August 7, Johnson announced that Border Patrol had apprehended 54,347 adults with children between January and July, but said that the trend was declining due to "an aggressive campaign to counter the rise of illegal immigration into the Rio Grande Valley."

According to Johnson, the agency has "dramatically reduced the removal time for many unaccompanied adults from 33 days to four days" and "increased the number of flights to repatriate people back to Central America."

Johnson also noted that the agency has expanded the detention space in Artesia and opened another facility in Karnes City, Texas.

"The Department of Justice and this department are dedicating additional resources to removal proceedings involving unaccompanied children and families, to ensure they are sent home quickly and safely and in accordance with our laws," said Johnson.

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