Attorney General Shapiro Files Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration’s Unlawful Family Separation Policy

June 26, 2018 | Topic: Rights

AG Shapiro: “The executive order President Trump signed last week has not remedied the problem, and I will not allow this Administration to use children as leverage to make up for Washington’s failure”

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced he has filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s policy of forced family separation on the U.S. southern border. The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

“The Trump Administration’s family separation policy – which it made a choice to enact – violates our Constitution, is inconsistent with U.S. asylum laws, and is fundamentally at odds with our core principles and values,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “The executive order President Trump signed last week has not remedied the problem, and I’m taking legal action to stop this abhorrent policy. I won’t allow Administration to use children as leverage to make up for Washington’s failure.”

The lawsuit alleges the administration’s family separation policy violates the fundamental due process rights of parents to be together with their children, as well as other constitutional and statutory claims. The lawsuit asks that President Trump immediately comply with the law and Constitution. The suit was filed by a coalition of 17 Attorneys General, including Attorney General Shapiro, Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington, and 15 others.

In Pennsylvania, the federal government is housing children in Pittsburgh and reportedly in the Lehigh Valley as part of its “zero-tolerance” policy, according to the lawsuit. In Pittsburgh, the 50 children are being housed at the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, a Catholic social services organization, which is under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Health and Human Services. The children, who are between four and 17, are from countries including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The lawsuit alleges four main arguments:

  • The Trump administration’s policy violates the rights of parents and children under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which holds: “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The Fifth Amendment applies to any “person”, and is not limited to U.S. citizens.

  • The lawsuit alleges the administration engaged in discrimination on the basis of nationality or ethnicity through its policy of child separation.
  • The suit claims the administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously under the Administrative Procedure Act by implementing the policy without justification and in conflict with laws requiring government to consider children’s well-being.
  • The policy is inconsistent with our nation’s asylum laws, which allow non-citizens who face persecution in their home country to seek asylum upon arrival in the United States.

The lawsuit cites Pennsylvania law, which declares that “[t]he family is the basic institution in society in which our children’s sense of self-esteem and positive self-image are developed and nurtured” and that “[t]hese feelings and values are essential to a healthy, productive and independent life during adulthood.”

The Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Act states that “[t]he family is the basic unity in society and the protection and preservation of the family is of paramount public concern.”

Pennsylvania law states that children who are separated from their parents are deprived of the “unique bond” of the parent-child relationship, which could leave “emotional scars” that will never heal.

The Department of Homeland Security order signed last week by President Trump does not address the reunification of families already separated by the Trump Administration’s policy. Although the order requires appropriation, it does not specify an amount or timeline. It also relies on a federal judge to approve changing the terms of an existing agreement to allow the government to indefinitely detain children.

President Trump has frequently said he is enforcing immigration laws put in place by prior Democratic administrations. In fact, the family separation policy is a result of his decision to prosecute parents, including those who seek asylum, with misdemeanor offenses, and to separate their children as a result.

“The federal government is treating children like prisoners; detaining them behind chain-link cage fencing, and cutting them off from communication with their parents. This is unconscionable treatment,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Washington must act to pass comprehensive immigration reform and using family separation as punishment is ineffective, cruel and inhumane.”

The states joining the lawsuit, in addition to Pennsylvania and Washington, include: Massachusetts, California, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Click here to read the lawsuit:

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