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Families with Arizona ties included in lawsuit challenging border separation

(AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez)

PHOENIX — A woman and her two young children arrived at the Arizona border in March. They had fled their home in Mexico and were seeking asylum in the United States.

She had hoped that she and her 6-year-old blind daughter and 4-year-old son would find protection together. Instead, border agents sent her to the Eloy Detention Center, and her children were taken to Phoenix where they’re being supervised by the Office of Refuge and Resettlement.

“I have not seen my children for one and a half months,” she said. “I worry about them constantly and don’t know when I will see them.”

The woman, whose name is being withheld for her safety, is part of a nationwide class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of hundreds of immigrant parents. The lawsuit challenges the Trump administration’s practice of separating asylum-seeking parents from their children at the border.

“It’s simply illegal for the government to separate parents and children for no apparent purpose without any kind of finding from a judge or from any government official that the parents are unfit, or without compelling reasons for the child to be separated from the parent,” said Billy Peard, a Tucson-based staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona.

The mother of two from Mexico said they were separated even after she showed her children’s birth certificate to prove their relationship. She said border agents also did not say she was a danger to her children or was abusive.

Another woman included in the lawsuit fled Guatemala with her son. They reached the U.S. in April and asked for asylum. Border agents sent her to the Eloy Detention Center and her son was taken to Phoenix.

The woman, whose name is also being withheld for her safety, said she had only been able to talk to her son once since they were separated.

“I was given a number to call, but no one answers the phone,” she said. “I hope I can be with my child very soon. I miss him and am scared for him.”

The Trump administration has defended its practice of separating children from their parents who are detained after crossing the border illegally. They’ve said they’re doing it to protect the best interest of the children.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson told a Senate committee on Tuesday that separating children from parents who are being prosecuted for breaking the law happens “in the United States every day.”

Peard said he doesn’t see it that way.

“There’s one reason and one reason only that they’re doing this and that’s as a form of punishment,” he said, adding that the Trump administration “wants to dissuade” parents and children from presenting themselves at the border to seek asylum, even though under national law they have the right to do so.

The ACLU is seeking a nationwide preliminary injunction to reunite all separated families. If the lawsuit prevails, the Trump administration would be forced to end its policy of separating families at the border.

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