The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has joined a class action lawsuit against the US government on behalf of more than 10,000 undocumented children in 100 facilities nationwide.
The lawsuit, filed by the SPLC, the Legal Aid Justice Center and a Washington, DC-based law firm, seeks the release of detained undocumented children if they have a sponsor and an overhaul of the immigration system and child detention protocols.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Office of Refugee Resettlement used its policies regarding sponsorship to pass information on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to prevent or deter migration, rather than assess the sponsors’ suitability.
Filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, the complaint follows the recent leaking of a 2017 memorandum of agreement between ICE and the refugee resettlement office, which revealed that the stated intent of sharing information was deterrence.
Citing the leaked memorandum, the suit says the Trump administration enacted “a policy to use detained immigrant children as bait to arrest immigrants who come forward to sponsor them”.
It adds that the Trump administration implemented this policy “even while explicitly acknowledging that this would prolong the detention of immigrant children”.
The lawsuit comes a week after a government audit found that US authorities may have detained “thousands more” immigrant children than previously known.
The Office of Inspector General at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the agency had identified many more children in addition to the 2,737 who were included as part of a class action lawsuit challenging the separations brought by the American Civil Liberties Union last year.
The auditor’s revelations came a day after a Pew Research Center analysis of government data found that the number of people apprehended by US border authorities in 2018 was three times higher than the year before. Pew attributed the spike to the increase in the number of family units apprehended at the border. The institute noted, however, that the number is still far lower than the level during most of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
Since coming to office, President Donald Trump has sought to limit the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country and tightened restrictions on immigration.
He has deployed thousands of troops to the southern border, where he falsely claimed US-bound caravans of migrants constitute an “invasion” of the country.
On Wednesday, the government entered its 33rd day of a partial shutdown, the longest of its type in US history.
Last month, Trump allowed the shutdown to go into effect after Democrats refused to approve more than $5bn in funds he demanded for a wall on the US-Mexico border. The wall was one of Trump’s main campaign promises during the 2016 presidential elections.