Guatemalan asylum-seeker sues Trump admin. for taking 7-year-old son

‘Mothers fight for their children!’ Guatemalan asylum-seeker sues Trump administration for taking seven-year-old son and REFUSING to say where he is – and he screamed ‘Mama! Mama!’ in her only phone call from him

  • Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia, a Guatemalan national seeking asylum in the U.S., sued 6 federal agencies and 10 top officials 
  • She claims her 7-year-old son was taken from her following two days in an immigration holding cell after they jumped the border and requested asylum
  • She also says officials won’t tell her where the boy is, and she was only allowed to speak to him once on the phone 
  • Mejia-Mejia was not indicted, but was held in custody pending final disposition of her asylum request until she posted bond
  • Her lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind filed by an individual parent affected by the family-separation crisis at the border
  • She says: ‘Right now my main focus is to get Darwin back in my arms. I am a mom, and mothers fight for their children’

A Guatemalan asylum-seeker sued the Trump administration on Tuesday for ‘forcibly’ separating her from her seven-year-old son after they crossed the border in May.

Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia was never indicted for illegally entering the country, but officials won’t tell her where her son Darwin is, according to her lawsuit filed Tuesday in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. against 6 federal agencies and 10 senior officials.

Mejia-Mejia’s lawsuit is believed to be the first to challenge the government’s removal of a specific child from a parent in the course of upholding federal immigration law. It opens up a new legal front in what has become an all-out battle with the White House on one side and a combination of Democratic lawmakers and immigration activists on the other. 

Through a Spanish translator in her newly adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, Mejia-Mejia told that she’s not focused on the politics. 

Only the boy.

‘Right now my main focus is to get Darwin back in my arms,’ she said. ‘I am a mom, and mothers fight for their children. I hope my fight can help other moms avoid this horror in their lives.’ 

In the lawsuit, she describes a heart-wrenching scene when uniformed agents entered her holding cell and took away the boy, who screamed for his mother. 


Guatemalan asylum applicant Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia is seeking asylum and has posted bond to get out of immigration jail; she sued the federal government on Tuesday for the return of her 7-year-old son Darwin, who was taken from her shortly after she entered the country and requested asylum after officials won’t tell her where her son is

The Trump administration is under fire from all sides for separating more than 2,000 minors from their parents after they cross into the U.S. illegally

The White House has insisted that court rulings offer no flexibility, and that children can’t legally be housed in immigration detention centers with the adults who bring them across the border – even if they’re their parents; the result has been scenes like this one, and an ear-piercing, emotional outcry from Americans across the political spectrum

President Trump, pictured Tuesday, is defending his policy, with top officials saying separating kids from jailed parents is no different from what happens in ordinary criminal courts

Mejia-Mejia and her son entered the U.S. near San Luis, Arizona on approximately May 19 and turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents ‘with the intention of seeking asylum,’ according to her attorney Mario Williams, because of spousal abuse at the hands of a violently alcoholic husband who she says threatened to kill her. 

She says immigration officials took the boy after they spent two days in ‘la hielera’ – the ‘cooler.’ 

‘Men dressed in green uniforms (border agents) told Ms. M. they needed to take her son and would not tell her why. Ms. M. said “no” and demanded an explanation, but they would not tell her why they needed to take her seven-year-old son, and they took him anyway,’ the legal complaint reads, referring to Mejia-Mejia and her son only by their initials.

‘The border agents did not tell Ms. M. where they were taking her son,’ who was ‘screaming and crying.’

‘That was the last time Ms. M. saw her son,’ according to the lawsuit.

She ‘has not been given any paperwork to indicate where her son is or what his status or health condition is,’ it alleges. 

Mejia-Mejia was permitted to post bond after she passed what the Justice Department calls a ‘credible fear’ interview, persuading immigration officials that deporting her back to her original home in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala would place her in physical danger.

After her release, Mejia-Mejia was permitted a single phone call with Darwin, whom agents would only tell her was somewhere in Phoenix.

‘Her son was crying and scared’ during the brief call, according to the lawsuit.

‘An official facilitating the call, who was with D.M., told Ms. M. that her son was “fine,” but Ms. M. could clearly hear her son saying “Mama! Mama! Mama!” in a distressed voice over and over and over again.’ 

The Trump administration is urging asylum-seekers to enter the U.S. at official ‘ports of entry.’ But Mike Donovan, CEO of Libre by Nexus – the Harrisonburg, Virginia firm that bailed her out for free – said Tuesday that she couldn’t possibly have known where to go.

‘She doesn’t have GPS. She didn’t have Google Maps,’ he said. 

And after a journey of more than 2,300 miles – roughly the distance from Boston to Phoenix – she couldn’t possibly find a government-approved checkpoint.

‘This woman doesn’t understand where a “port of entry” is. She’s navigating three countries to get here. She doesn’t even know where the border is.’ 

He called her situation, and Darwin’s, ‘insane, vicious and cruel’ but said the normally quiet, shy mother ‘is willing to go to war to protect her son.’

Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia has sued the Trump administration, saying she was ‘forcibly’ separated from her 7-year-old son after they entered the U.S. illegally but then applied for asylum

Mejia-Mejia was released from federal immigration detention center in Eloy, Arizona on June 15 after posting a $12,500 bond arranged by Donovan’s company.

‘We have a charitable bonding program, and that’s how her bond was posted,’ he said. ‘So she doesn’t have to pay anything. It’s based on indigency.’

The firm typically charges up to 20 per cent of a bond’s amount, plus a monthly fee.

Williams, whose law practice centers on civil rights and international human rights cases, said Donovan’s parent company funds an independent law firm with between $1 million and $3 million per year to litigate cases like Mejia-Mejia’s.  

‘She reached out for help’ after the company posted her bond, Williams said. 

He hopes to get a court hearing before the end of the week on an emergency application for a restraining order, something that would force the Trump administration to find Darwin and reunite him with his mother.

But he cautioned that there’s a bigger issue in play and he’s not likely to withdraw the lawsuit until it runs its full course.

‘We definitely will be happy when she gets her son back, but we are going to continue litigating the situation because of the broad impact this egregious policy has had on people around the country and around the world,’ Williams said. 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday at the White House that children like Darwin are typically held in shelters by the Department of Health and Human Services for no more than 20 days.

That agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement ‘provides meals, medical care, and educational services to these children. They are provided temporary shelter. And HHS works hard to find a parent, relative, or foster home to care for these children,’ she said. 

Nielsen also told reporters that parents like Mejia-Mejia ‘can still communicate with their children through phone calls and video conferencing.’

That doesn’t appear to have happened in her case.

Neither an ICE spokesperson nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. A Homeland Security Department spokeswoman said that ‘as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation.’

Mejia-Mejia can’t get any answers either, said Donovan.  

‘I feel like we should be printing pictures on milk cartons and canvassing Arizona,’ he said. ‘How do we know the kid’s safe? Are we supposed to take the government’s word for it?’

‘She’s free. She’s been paroled. The very government that took her child has authorized her to be here on bond. Give the child back! This isn’t hard.’

Mejia-Mejia says federal officials won’t tell her where her son is, and only allowed her to speak with him once after she bonded out of immigration jail – and heard him crying ‘Mama! Mama!’

President Donald Trump said Tuesday on Twitter that the U.S. has ‘got to stop separation of the families,’ and blamed congressional Democrats for clinging to the status quo for political reasons.

‘As a result of Democrat-supported loopholes in our federal laws, most illegal immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrive unlawfully at the border cannot be detained together, or removed together. Only released,’ he said.

‘These are crippling loopholes that cause family separation, which we don’t want. As a result of these loopholes, roughly half a million … have been released into the United States since 2014.’

The federal government, he claimed, has only two choices that don’t break current law.

‘We have only two policy options to respond to this massive crisis,’ he said. ‘We can either release all immigrant families and minors who show up at the border from Central America. Or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entries.’

‘Those are [the] only two options: totally open borders or criminal prosecution for lawbreaking.’

‘We can’t let people pour in,’ he added. ‘They’ve got to go through the process. And maybe it’s politically correct or maybe it’s not.’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions approved a ‘zero tolerance’ immigration enforcement policy in April, directing agents in the field to spare no one from prosecution after an illegal border crossing.

‘What has changed,’ Nielsen said Monday, ‘is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law. Everyone is subject to prosecution.’

She underscored that ‘if an adult enters at a port of entry and claims asylum, they will not face prosecution for illegal entry. They have not committed a crime by coming to the port of entry.’

Mejia-Mejia is not facing criminal prosecution despite jumping the border in between those legal ports of entry, calling the consistency of the zero-tolerance approach into doubt. 

In her legal argument, she claims the Trump administration ‘has separated hundreds of migrant families for no legitimate purpose.’

‘Although there are no allegations that the parents are unfit or abusing their children in any way, the government has forcibly separated them from their young children and detained the children, often far away, in facilities for “unaccompanied” minors,’ she charges.

It’s unclear whether Mejia-Mejia’s asylum request will be granted.

Trump said Tuesday during a speech that he has ‘only two options’ for dealing with adults who illegally bring children into the U.S. from Mexico: ‘totally open borders or criminal prosecution for lawbreaking’

Last week Sessions ruled that domestic violence can no longer be considered grounds for asylum unless an applicant can prove he or she was persecuted because of ‘membership in a particular and socially distinct group’ like race or gender.

But passing the credible fear test, and bonding out of jail, suggests her case may fit into a narrow range of exceptions.

In her lawsuit, Mejia-Mejia is asking a federal judge to declare separating her from her son was ‘unlawful,’ order the boy’s return to her and forbid the government from deporting her without him.

She is also seeking financial damages for the ‘pain and suffering arising from the separation,’ and ‘punitive damages for the conscious disregard for [her] rights.   

The lawsuit cites the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and alleges that the Trump administration violated her and her son’s rights to due process under the law.    

They ‘have a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause in remaining together as a family,’ it contends.

Her argument hinges on the definition of a ‘person’ in the Fifth Amendment, which the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 encompasses people who, the law considers ‘aliens.’ 

The trek Mejia-Mejia took with her son covered about 2,300 miles, roughly the distance from Boston to Phoenix

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‘Once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the due process clause applies to all persons within the United States,’ the justices wrote in the case Zadvydas vs. Davis.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the administration this year, challenging the policy more generally. A judge ruled June 6 that the suit can proceed forward, saying that it describes ‘government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child.’ 

Mejia-Mejia sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Individual named defendants include Nielsen, Sessions, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, Phoenix ICE Field Office Director Henry Lucero and Assistant Field Office Director Michael Zackowski, USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna, Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and his Tucson Field Director William Brooks, and Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Scott Lloyd.

President Trump is not named as a defendant. 

The case is Mejia-Mejia v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al, 1:18-cv-01445.

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