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Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Treatment Of Mothers In Deportation Proceedings

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JEH JOHNSON
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said those caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally will in most cases be deported. (Evan Vucci) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Immigration and civil rights groups filed a suit Friday against the federal government, alleging it is trampling on due process by making it nearly impossible for women and children to make the case they should not be deported to their native countries where they face dangerous conditions.

The suit was filed by the National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council and National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of seven mothers being held in detention in Artesia, New Mexico.

Thousands of mothers with children have been apprehended this year after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, along with an influx of unaccompanied minors traveling without their parents. The increase largely comes from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and many of the immigrants have said they are fleeing violence there.

But with its system strained from the increase of illegal entries, the government has attempted to deter further illegal border crossings by sending a tough message abroad that those caught will be deported -- a message made in part by speedy removals. At least 280 women and children already been deported from the Artesia facility, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month.

The immigrant rights groups alleged that deportations from the Artesia facility have come through fast-tracked removal proceedings that provide little chance for mothers and children to make a case for why they should be allowed to stay.

The facility is about three and a half hours away from El Paso, Texas, and from Albuquerque, New Mexico, making visits from lawyers difficult, and the suit alleges the women's phone calls with attorneys have been cut off after three minutes.

The women have been forced to recount stories of abuse, including sexual assault, in front of their children and were told repeatedly by ICE agents that they would be deported, regardless of individual circumstances, according to the lawsuit.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters on a press call that based on visits to the Artesia facility and conversations with the women, the groups believe the government has a pattern of human and civil rights violations.

"We filed on behalf of these seven courageous mothers because they are doing what every mother would do. They took risks and made sacrifices to save their children's lives," she said. "Our message to the federal government is simple: follow the law."

"We urge the administration to stop the deportation mill in Artesia and ensure that these women, who have risked everything to protect their kids, are able to present their cases and not to be deported back to the violence and persecution they have fled," she continued.

Department of Homeland Security officials said in a statement that the Artesia facility provides access to volunteer attorneys and facilitates their presence, along with keeping in contact with groups providing counsel about their concerns.

"The inter-agency response to this unprecedented surge has been both humane and lawful," DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said. "As a matter of policy, we do not specifically comment on pending litigation."

This story has been updated to include a comment from the Department of Homeland Security.

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