University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name M.G.U. v. Nielsen IM-DC-0053
Docket / Court 1:18-cv-01458-PLF ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Case Summary
This case arose in response to President Trump's 2018 family separation policy. On April 6, 2018, the US Attorney General announced a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which criminally prosecuted all adult entrants crossing the border without documentation, including asylum seekers ... read more >
This case arose in response to President Trump's 2018 family separation policy. On April 6, 2018, the US Attorney General announced a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which criminally prosecuted all adult entrants crossing the border without documentation, including asylum seekers accompanied by minor children. The Trump administration stated that its zero-tolerance policy was intended to reduce illegal border crossing, migration, and the burdens resulting from fraudulent asylum requests. However, enforcement of the zero-tolerance policy resulted in widely-publicized separation of children from their parents. Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held authority over detainment of adult aliens, minor children were not permitted to be held in federal criminal detention facilities. Therefore, accompanying children were held separately under the guidelines of the Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA), which required the government to limit the time accompanied minors spent in detention to 20 days. In cases where the parents were not released in 20 days, minors were considered unaccompanied alien children, under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Public pressure prompted an executive order from President Trump, which mandated the DHS to maintain custody of immigrant families on June 20, 2018. This allowed immigrant parents and children apprehended at the border to remain together during the pendency of their criminal or immigration proceedings.

On June 20, 2018, three immigrant parents forcibly separated from their children filed a lawsuit against various immigration federal agencies and officials in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking immediate reunification with their children. Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit under the Declaratory Judgment Act. They alleged that family separation was a punishment in violation of Due Process and sought preliminary and permanent injunctions to immediately reunite with their children. They also sought attorney fees. The case was initially assigned to Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, then re-assigned to Judge Paul L. Friedman as he had an earlier related case.

Specifically, the plaintiffs, all of whom entered the U.S. with accompanying children, crossed the US-Mexico border from Central America after the announcement of the zero-tolerance policy, prior to the issuance of the June 20 executive order. Plaintiff M.G.U. crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with her children, then presented herself with her children at the San Ysidro, California port of entry on May 4, 2018. Initially detained together with her children at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC), Plaintiff M.G.U was moved to an adult detention facility from the STFRC due to a past criminal conviction. Her children were determined as alien children without a suitable legal guardian, separated to be transported to New York in custody of the ORR. Plaintiff E.F and Plaintiff A.P.F, were prosecuted for entering the US without inspection after crossing the US-Mexico border with their children. In accordance with the Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), their children were similarly transferred to the custody of the ORR.

On June 22, 2018, the plaintiffs filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO), allowing them access to daily information on the children’s well-being as well as consistent communication with the children during the period of the separation. At the hearing held on June 27, 2018, the defendants claimed that most of the information requested by the plaintiffs was already available, or available upon request. Judge Friedman withheld the TRO application and suggested a joint status report between the plaintiffs and defendants. The parties submitted the joint status report on July 5, 2018, which resolved several issues. However, the parties could not reach an agreement on matters regarding communication between the plaintiffs and children, or the release of specific information on the location of Plaintiff E. F.’s child. On July 16, 2018, the Court granted the plaintiffs’ TRO for the matters above.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction for immediate reunification with their children. A hearing was held on July 12, 2018, during which Plaintiff E.F. informed the Court that she was awaiting a review decision on a negative credible fear determination. A credible fear determination by an asylum officer determines whether an individual has reasonable fear of returning to their home country. If negative, the plaintiff would be removed, which risked Plaintiff E.F. being removed from the U.S. without her son. On July 13, 2018, an immigration judge had affirmed Plaintiff E. F’s negative fear determination.. For that reason, the Court prohibited defendants from removing Plaintiff. E.F. from the US prior to the preliminary injunction decision.

Meanwhile, in another case, on June 26, 2018, Judge Dana M Sabraw of the United States District Court of the Southern District of California issued a class-wide preliminary injunction requiring reunification of children under the age of five with their parents by July 10, 2018, and children over the age of five by July 26, 2018.see Ms. L v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

On July 18, 2018, Judge Friedman granted Plaintiff E. F’s motion for preliminary injunction, ordering the defendants to reunite her with her 9-year-old son by July 20, 2018. Plaintiff M.G.U and Plaintiff A.P.F had been reunited with their children prior to the court order on July 11, 2018, and July 17, 2018, respectively.

On November 9, 2018, the defendants moved to dismiss the case because the plaintiffs' claims were based on the separation from their children, who were now united. Additionally, they asserted that there was no fundamental right of parents to be detained with their children while they were detained pursuant to a criminal charge.

On December 23, 2018, the plaintiffs moved to add two additional plaintiffs, plaintiffs P.M.B and C.O.M, a mother subject to a final order of deportation, and daughter, whose asylum was pending. The mother and daughter were initially detained together near Dilley, Texas, but faced imminent separation, as the defendants argued that the proposed plaintiff was not a class member because the family had not been forcibly separated previously.

The plaintiffs filed for an emergency TRO to preserve the status quo detention of P.M.B and C.O.M, preventing their separation, which was granted on December 24, 2018. On January 26, 2019, the defendants released the proposed plaintiffs from detention to lawfully pursue immigration relief in the US, subject to an ankle monitor. Since releasing C.O.M and P.M.B, the defendants indicated they no longer had intent to separate the plaintiffs while they pursued immigration relief. Consequently, Plaintiffs sought dissolution of the TRO and withdrew their motions without prejudice.

Although this case has stalled, plaintiffs are still free to refile motions if plaintiffs are further separated from their children.

Averyn Lee - 03/22/2019


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
General
Family reunification
Placement in detention facilities
Youth / Adult separation
Immigration/Border
Constitutional rights
Family
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement
Plaintiff Description Three non-U.S. citizens from Guatemala and Honduras that were seeking entry at the U.S. border.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Filing Year 2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing IM-CA-0121 : Ms. L. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (S.D. Cal.)
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  Read the handwritten notes in a court filing from parents separated from their children
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/read-the-handwritten-notes-in-a-court-filing-from-parents-separated-from-their-children/
Date: Jun. 22, 2018
By: CBS News
[ Detail ]

  Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation
https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/affording-congress-opportunity-address-family-separation/
Date: Jun. 20, 2018
By: The White House
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
1:18-cv-1458 (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0053-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/27/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint Seeking Preliminary and Permanent Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
IM-DC-0053-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/20/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 30] (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0053-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/09/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 42] (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0053-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/16/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Order and Opinion [ECF# 44] (2018 WL 3432720) (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0053-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/16/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [ECF# 47] (2018 WL 3474189) (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0053-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/18/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Report on Case Status as of September 10, 2018 [ECF# 51]
IM-DC-0053-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/10/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Friedman, Paul L. (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0002 | IM-DC-0053-0003 | IM-DC-0053-0005 | IM-DC-0053-0006 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Arfa, Meredith (New York) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Ball, David J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Chisholm, Amanda (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0001 | IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Fell, Katherine Kelly (New York) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Herzog, Steven C. (New York) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
McGraw, Peter E. (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0001 | IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Sithian, Anand (New York) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-9000
Wesevich, Jerome W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0001 | IM-DC-0053-0004
William, Jerome (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Fabian, Sarah B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Hunt, Joseph H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004
Liu, Jessie K. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004
Murley, Nicole N. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-9000
Peachey, William Charles (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004
Silvis, William C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004
Simon, Jeremy S (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004 | IM-DC-0053-9000
Van Horn, Daniel F (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0053-0004

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -