The coalition of state attorneys general suing the Trump administration over its policy of separating families along the southwestern border is asking the government to give them detailed information on those detained as soon as possible.
The attorneys general filed a motion for expedited discovery in Seattle federal court Monday, along with 99 declarations from people involved with or affected by the separation policy.
According to the motion, the attorneys general want expedited discovery because the federal government is able to move immigrants to different facilities at any time. They said they want to know where those immigrants are so they can obtain evidence and interview them for the lawsuit.
Their concern is that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will move those immigrants before the attorneys general have a chance to speak with them.
A spokeswoman for the federal agency declined to comment on the new motion.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood is one of 18 state attorneys general on the lawsuit filed last week. Her office helped gather some of the 99 declarations submitted by individuals, groups and experts with knowledge of the family separation policy.
“It is inhumane, unconscionable and illegal to keep these children separated from their families,” Underwood said in a statement. “The stories detailed in our case make clear the irreparable trauma being caused to these children by the Trump administration’s policy, which also continues to harm New York’s fundamental interests in protecting families’ health, safety, and well-being.”
There were 321 children in New York state foster agencies as of last week that were separated from their parents at the border, according to Underwood’s office. Others have been placed in group homes and sponsor families.
One of them is Jelsin Joel Aguilar Padilla, who is living in a group home in New York, according to a declaration filed by his mother, Yolani Karina Padilla-Orellana. Her account details how she was separated from her son at the border. She arrived from Honduras at the border on May 18, according to her declaration.
Padilla-Orellana said she was separated from her son by officers at the border but was not told for how long or where he would be taken. The officers told her he would become a ward of the state, she said. She was kept at the facility for three days, where she said she was treated poorly.
“They never allowed me to shower,” Padilla-Orellana said. “I drank water from the bathroom because that is all there was there.”
She saw her son once before she was transferred out of the shelter when officers brought them to take a photo together, Padilla-Orellana said. That was the last time she saw him, she said.
She was transferred to a shelter in Laredo, Texas, on May 21, where she said she had no contact with her son. She didn’t know where he was until June 17 when the Honduran consulate tracked him down in New York. By that point, Padilla-Orellana said she had been transferred to another facility in Washington state.
She was able to speak to her son on the phone briefly, she said.
“He was just crying,” Padilla-Orellana said. “Upon hearing his sobs, I told him everything would be all right, that he should not worry, that God would help us, and that he should be strong because we would be together and I would not leave without him.”
The declarations include many stories like that one gathered from detained parents at various facilities in the United States.
Officials from state and city agencies were also included in the declarations. Laura Velez, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Child Welfare and Community Services of the New York state Office of Children and Family Services, wrote about the state’s role in the matter.
Actions by the federal government have not allowed the state to provide services to children separated from their parents, as is required under state regulations, she wrote. Federal authorities have also prevented the state from allowing visitation between children and their parents in New York, which the state also allows, Velez wrote.
“The parents and children whom defendants have separated at the border have not been afforded these visitation procedures, nor has there been any process to recognize or protect their rights,” Velez said. “Defendants’ disregard for the rights of these children and families is deeply harmful to those children, undermines OCFS’s ability to provide for their health, safety and well-being, and results in these children being treated differently than other children that are similarly in the state’s care.”
The attorneys general also included declarations from people whose experiences were unrelated to the family separation policy, but had something to say about it. Evelyn Banko from Oregon, for example, wrote about her experience as a survivor of the Holocaust.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, claims the Trump administration violated the due process rights of immigrants by denying asylum seekers entry to the United States. The attorneys general also accuse the administration of failing to come up with a plan to reunite families that were separated at the border.
The Trump administration issued an executive order on June 20 ending the practice of separating families. But the order left unclear the situations of several thousand children who had already been removed from parents, and is complicated by a 1996 federal court settlement governing detention of underage persons, according to press reports.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is leading the lawsuit along with Underwood and attorneys general from Massachusetts, California, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.