(Reuters) – Dozens of immigrant parents were coerced or misled by U.S. authorities on the Mexico border into signing forms agreeing to be deported quickly without their children, lawyers said in a court filing on Wednesday.
A minor sits in the back of a van as he is transported into Casa Esperanza, a federal contracted shelter in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
“They showed me a form and told me that I needed to sign the form so that I could be reunified with my son,” said a Honduran asylum seeker identified only as H.G.A. in testimony filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego.
Other parents who were illiterate or spoke only indigenous languages said they could not understand the forms they were signing.
Attorney Sofia Reive said in a declaration that she met last weekend with nine fathers on a list provided by the U.S. government of parents who had waived reunification with their children.
All of the fathers, Reive said, “had no idea that they had signed a document that relinquished any rights to be reunited with the children.”
The ACLU filed statements from attorneys who interviewed immigrants and an immigrant’s account to support its motion asking District Judge Dana Sabraw to stay deportations of reunited parents for seven days after their children are returned to them.
The rights group said the time is needed to advise parents of their rights and to allow them time to consider their options.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the filing.
Government lawyers have said they do not believe the court has jurisdiction to issue an order delaying deportation. They have also defended the government’s handling of the reunifications so far, saying the ACLU’s portrayal of the process as chaotic is inaccurate.
“We have many reason to be proud,” Scott Stewart, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, told the judge in court on Tuesday.
More than 450 immigrant parents who were separated from their children when they entered the United States illegally are no longer in the country though their children remain behind, according to a joint court filing on Monday by the federal government and the ACLU in the case, which challenges the separation of children and parents by immigration officials.
Last month, Sabraw the government had to reunite as many as 2,500 children and parents separated under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. He gave the government until July 26 to do so.
Editing by Sue Horton and Cynthia Osterman