ACLU: Separated parents were forced to sign paperwork they can’t read

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Immigration lawyers representing families separated at the border by the Trump administration say migrant parents have been forced to sign documents they can’t read and don’t understand, according to a new filing in federal court.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is fighting the separations on behalf of families in a class-action lawsuit, argued in a court documents Wednesday that the government acted in a “coercive and misleading” manner that led several parents to sign documents waiving their right to be reunited with their children without knowing it.

Some thought they were signing papers to be reunited with their kids, while others were presented forms in English they couldn’t read, the filing claims.


ACLU is pushing the court to give parents one week with their kids before they can be deported. Under terms agreed to by the court, the government gives parents 48 hours to decide whether they want to be reunited with their children and return to their home country as a family or waive reunification and be removed alone.

But the civil rights group said it never contemplated the government would force parents to make this “momentous decision” before even seeing their children.

The ACLU says in the filing that parents described being forced to make a decision in a matter of minutes in a room full of dozens of other parents and reported being provided misinformation that signing the waiver form would reunite them with their children.

The group included 14 affidavits from a mix of lawyers, who are working pro bono to help reunite families, and migrant parents who have been separated from their children.

Shalyn Fluharty, the managing attorney of the Dilley Pro Bono Project that is representing families detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, said counseling these reunited families is unlike and far more difficult than anything she’s encountered during her more than two years representing families at the facility.

Fluharty said the trauma and lack of trust parents are experiencing has created additional challenges in providing legal assistance.

“Mothers state they have been lied to, coerced, and threatened while in government custody,” she said in her sworn statement.

“Daily, mothers receive new disclosures from their children regarding their experiences in government shelters throughout the country. Children have expressed being deprived food, experiencing physical violence, and suffering ongoing depression during their separation from their parents. Some parents state they did not recognize their child upon reunification, because their child lost so much weight.”

In a court conference Tuesday night, attorneys with the Department of Justice argued the government has tried to negotiate with the ACLU to give parents time to make decisions about whether to leave the country with their children and criticized the ACLU for blindsiding the government with anecdotal affidavits.

The court-ordered deadline for the government to reunite families it separated at the border is Thursday, which federal district court Judge Dana Sabraw said Tuesday the government is on track to meet. 

Department of Justice lawyers said in court Tuesday evening that it has identified 1,637 parents who are eligible for reunification, and of those 1,012 have been reunited.

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