Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Friday asking a federal court to stop the Obama administration from expediting the deportations of immigrant families from Central America being held in a New Mexico detention center.
The 60-page legal complaint, on behalf of seven women and three children at the facility in Artesia, N.M., alleges that the Department of Homeland Security has denied due process rights as it seeks to deport the hundreds of undocumented immigrants being housed there.
Lawyers representing the families said the Obama administration, which has sought to mount a response to an influx of tens of thousands of Central Americans across the southern border, has unlawfully altered long-standing policies that grant asylum protections to immigrants fleeing dangerous homelands.
"The government has created a deportation mill and is sending families back to danger," said Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council, one of four organizations that filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington.
“The inter-agency response to this unprecedented surge has been both humane and lawful,” said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He declined to discuss the specific allegations in the lawsuit.
The challenge could complicate the administration's strategy to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants by returning as many as possible to their home nations to send a stern message that more illegal migrants are not welcome in the United States.
So far, about 63,000 unaccompanied minors, and an additional 63,000 adults with children, have been apprehended at the border. Though the unaccompanied children have received the bulk of media attention over the summer, the administration's handling of the adults and their children - known as "family units" under DHS policies - has come under heightened scrutiny by civil rights groups. The advocates contend that the families are being denied legal representation and coerced by federal authorities into consenting to their removals.