March 7, 2018 / 6:22 AM / 14 days ago

Detained asylum seeker released after suing Trump administration

(Reuters) - Federal authorities have released a Congolese woman seeking asylum with her daughter in the U.S. after she accused the Trump administration of unfairly separating immigrants like herself from their children, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

The woman, referred to in her lawsuit only as Ms. L, was “abruptly released” after she was detained in San Diego and her 7-year-old daughter was sent by federal authorities to Chicago four months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

“We hope that she’ll be reunited with her daughter immediately. And we will continue fighting this horrific nationwide practice, because this mother is hardly the only asylum seeker who has had his or her child taken,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who is representing the woman in court.

The ACLU said the woman had brought her daughter to the United States to escape violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The woman filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court Southern District of California on Feb. 26, claiming that the Trump administration violated her constitutional due process rights, a federal law protecting asylum seekers and the government’s own directive to release asylum seekers, court documents showed.

People seeking asylum in the United States are interviewed by an asylum officer, and if they are found to have credible fear of returning home, they can remain in the country to pursue their claims in immigration court.

Court challenges have led to limits on the amount of time children can be kept in immigration detention, and the government has often decided to release parents along with their children to await resolution of asylum cases.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has criticized the asylum process as rife with fraud. The administration has floated the idea of separating families at the border in an attempt to deter their migration.

“This is not a one-off case,” Gelernt said at the time the lawsuit was filed. “We are hearing there are dozens if not hundreds of cases around the country. And the Administration is threatening to do even more family separation.”

The lawsuit said Ms. L. and her daughter hid in a Catholic Church in her strife-torn homeland before deciding to risk a journey to the United States.

She explained to border officials in broken Spanish that she was seeking asylum and since Nov. 1 has been held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Four days after their arrival, her daughter was transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which houses and places children that arrive on the border alone.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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