The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit seeking to reunite a family of asylum-seekers separated by a Trump administration policy that has led to widespread chaos and suffering at the southern U.S. border.

Under what was dubbed the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) by the Trump administration, tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been stranded in dangerous cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, waiting for distant court dates in an asylum system that the Trump administration is seeking to dismantle. Far from providing “protection” for migrants and asylum-seekers, MPP has exposed people to severe risk of violence and persecution.

“The Trump administration has been waging an all-out war on the U.S.’s asylum system, which has long provided shelter for people who need protection,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This policy is one of many meant to separate families and to inflict pain on those who seek our protection. Asylum-seekers deserve compassion and the protection of our laws, not cruelty.”

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of a family that, fearing for their lives, fled Central America and sought protection in the United States. The family is now separated as a result of MPP. While Maudy Constanza and their two daughters were screened and released into the United States after demonstrating a credible asylum claim, her partner and their son were returned to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, while their cases were processed. After returning to Mexico, the father and son spent several days in extremely precarious conditions, surviving two attempted kidnappings, and going hungry when it was too dangerous to go out to buy food. While they eventually found shelter farther from the border, conditions are so unsafe that they rarely leave the home—other than to attend church or when making the dangerous trip to attend their asylum hearings.

“The government is punishing this family for seeking our country’s help,” said Susan Church, co-counsel and Constanza’s immigration lawyer. “All they wanted is safety for their children, and the United States has punished them by sending an 8-year-old boy and his father to fend for themselves in one of the most dangerous places on earth.”

“The United States government is deliberately subjecting asylum-seekers to intolerably dangerous conditions in locations where Central American migrants are being hunted by cartels,” said Jill Seeber, an immigration attorney with the Cambridge-based non-profit De Novo, who has made several trips to the border to work with asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico for their day in court. “Nearly every ​asylum-seeker I worked with had been kidnapped ​at least once. In the MPP hearings I attended in the immigration tent courts, there were repeated references to kidnappings and violence endured by those who were able to appear, and to others who were unable to appear in court because they had been kidnapped.”

The lawsuit cites violations of federal laws and of the Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses.

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