Mexico City – Parents travelling in a US-bound caravan of thousands of Central American migrants and refugees are taking legal action on behalf of their children against US President Donald Trump‘s border detention plans.
The parents of six minors, all currently travelling north through southern Mexico, are the plaintiffs in a civil action filed Thursday in a District of Columbia court against Trump and nine top Trump administration officials.
The suit claims Trump “continues to abuse the law, including constitutional rights, to deter Central Americans from exercising their lawful right to seek asylum in the United States”.
Thousands of Central American migrants and refugees are collectively fleeing north. The Mexican government is processing more than 2,000 requests for asylum. Thousands more are expected to continue to travel north to request asylum in the United States.
An initial caravan departed from Honduras last month and is now making its way through the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Other large groups from Honduras and El Salvador are following behind them up through Guatemala and Mexico.
At a press conference Thursday, Trump reiterated his administration’s intentions to take drastic measures in response to the caravans.
Trump suggested that any rocks thrown at US troops will be considered equivalent to rifles, allowing troops to engage with live ammunition. More than 5,000 members of the US military have already been deployed to the border, and their total number could surpass 15,000, according to Trump.
In the same press conference, Trump also made said his administration is finalising plans that would include potentially denying asylum claims if migrants and refugees cross in between ports of entry. He said the government is also working to build “massive” tent facilities to hold members of the caravan and no one will be released while their asylum cases are being processed.
“Trump’s professed and enacted policy towards thousands of caravanners seeking asylum in the United States is shockingly unconstitutional,” according to the class complaint, Pineda v Trump, filed Thursday in the District Court of the District of Columbia.
The civil action on behalf of children in the caravan was filed against Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), top officials for all of those agencies, and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The civil action is based on the Flores Agreement, a 1997 court settlement agreement that mandated certain conditions for the detention of minors by immigration authorities and their treatment in custody.
The legally binding agreement requires facilities housing detained minors to be run by licensed programmes and provide toilets, drinking water, contact with family, and adequate temperature control and ventilation, among other conditions.
The impossibility of adequate temperature control and ventilation in tent camp facilities – and their potential administration as unlicensed programmes – in the desert southwest are just two of the issues raised in the Thursday’s complaint, which seeks an immediate injunction and class certification.
Trump’s announcements of extreme measures planned in response to the thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing north has drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups.
“Right now, mothers, fathers, and children are enduring a terrible and arduous journey because they urgently need to find safe haven from violence and persecution,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo said in a statement Friday.
“Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. I would like to remind President Trump that US law states very clearly that it does not matter where or how people seeking safe haven enter the country – they are allowed to apply for asylum. His intentions to limit the rights of those seeking asylum are against those laws and the USA’s international obligations,” said Naidoo.